Hugger Orange

“Fuck…” Jackson planted his left foot, palms flat on either side of his gas cap, stepped into the push. “You sure the brake’s off, it’s out of gear?”

Dash leaned against the open driver’s-side door, flicked sweat off the end of his nose. “Tasks such as this are why auto-mobiles and I are currently at odds.”

“Fuck.”

“You ’bout in desperate need of a more di-verse and entertaining dialog. ‘Nother half a block, all we need.”

“You said that two, three blocks ago. Why the hell did we go to Venice Beach anyway?”

“I painted you a verbal picture of mustachioed muscle men in mi-nute elastic panties and beautiful women on roller skates in far less. You were overcome with a need to see those wonders for yourself. I was obliged to accompany, you a stranger in a strange land and all.”

“Fuck…”

“Must I admonish you further?”

“Whose idea was Ripple or whatever that was we put in the radiator?”

“The mixture of ‘whatever’ be a varietal blend of leftover fluids found in the Venice trash, and was installed under decree by committee. We come close to makin’ it, though.”

“Said the Titanic to the iceberg.”

“See what you come out with, you think on it?”

***

Jackson backed out of the passenger door of his dead ride with a shopping bag full of six years of console, under seat, trunk and glove box junk. He stepped away a few feet, took it in. All the memories. All the bullshit. There was still a quarter of a tank of gas in it. All he needed was a match.

“Somethin’ on your mind, Casper? I perceive a vibe that bodes ill for this sad piece of industrial sculpture.”

“Maybe we get a keg, throw a block party with a bonfire.”

“Block party in El Lay always a winning proposal. Famous bands and topless women a given. But an auto-motive bonfire spells R-I-O-T to the po-leece. We be fingerprinted and on Channel Seven ‘fore the fire’s out.”

“Fuck.”

“There you go again.”

“I can’t afford to fix it.”

“Don’t want to afford to fix it. Howsome ever,” Dash turned his palm up in a game show model’s ‘here’s your new washer and dryer’ move. “Even in its current immobile state ride still looks cock. If you will allow me to speak on your behalf with a brother I know who specializes in vee-hicular transactions I might persuade him to offer you a modest amount of cash or functional in-kind trade for your lifeless possession.”

“You have a friend who deals in dead cars?”

All kinds of cars. Magic is afoot in East Compton, my brother. Buster put a black Jag-u-ar in one end and a red Lincoln pops out the other. Same may be said of dead or damaged in, alive and well out. Shined all the hell up and runnin’? This’ll be seriously ripe for a low down and payments guaranteed to last longer than Star Trek reruns. Buster will perceive, as I do, that a Messican or pimply-assed kid will think their dick grew three inches they find themselves behind the wheel of this aww-toe.”

“He’ll keep it the same color? I’d hate to —”

“Output color depends entirely on condition and Buster’s means of acquisition. It’s legal and wrinkle free. Only his feelings on Day-Glo Orange come into play.”

Hugger Orange.”

“Nigger, please. A rose by any other name, we understand each other?”

***

Jackson followed Dash down from the wrecker cab in a swirl of east Compton dust. Dash took a fistful of cash from a tall, skinny kid with red eyes and an eighteen inch ‘fro, disappeared through a heavy, steel-clad door. A few long minutes passed and from the minor sea of Quonset huts and rutted gravel a primer coated 1964 Impala SS with shiny bumpers, pimp wheels and zero trim pulled up purring smooth and low like a fat cat in a circle of sunshine. A sweaty, wiry gray-haired black man in grease stained pin-stripe overalls stepped out, leaving a hint of Bay Rum and an old time barbershop in his wake.

“You bein’ the only thing white I see ‘sides the garage door, this’n must be yours.” He stepped around, popped the hood, spit tobacco juice in front of Jackson’s feet. “Supra Sport Shivvies came stock with a 409. Big and dumb as our current crop a heavyweights. I put this new 327 crate motor in yestiddy. Old with no blue smoke keeps the gov’nor happy an the po-leece away. Break ‘er in easy she’ll stay that way. ” He dropped the hood, wiped his hands on the red shop rag hanging from his back pocket, spit again. “Small block’s lighter, lets you keep some rubber on the tires, drives past a gas station ‘casionally. Axe me, rides some better, too, all that weight gone. Had in mind to paint it, but you come along.”

He paused, examined Jackson like a man encountering a disease. “Air conditioner blows cold, no back seat, no radio. No charge for the trunk mount spare cover. It come in from somewhere, don’t fit nothin’ else, tired a walkin’ around it.” He held up the keys, dropped them so quick Jackson almost missed the mid-air save. The old man nodded, spit another stream of tobacco juice. “The Dash be along drekly with paper an plates.”

Jackson watched the man walk away, his bowlegged side to side gait kicked up light puffs of gravel dust, a walk punctuated with an off-beat sway of the shop rag hanging from his pocket and an every fourth step spit. “Nice to meet you, too.”

***

“Needs paint. Legal, mostly. Nothing due, no change, even up.” Dash put his hands on the door sill. “You an Ellis get on?”

“You mean the old guy who spits redneck diarrhea, no. No handshake, no thanks. No take it easy, no fuck off kiss my ass honky punk. Must’ve left all that in the same place as the back seat and radio.”

“No radio?” Dash’s head rolled back. “Muh-ther fuh…” He tossed the plates and registration on the passenger seat, went back through the heavy door, wasn’t gone long, wasn’t happy coming out. He landed in the seat, right leg still out, hand on the door. “Hang left, follow the drive around back. Stop where I tell you.”

Jackson stopped on command, Dash slid out, vanished behind a corrugated metal door, was back in under thirty seconds with a nearly new Delco combo radio and cassette player from a Cadillac. He eased back into the passenger seat, set the radio where the back seat should have been. “Radio’s for the shit paint job. I told the motherfuckers, you know, I be ridin’ in this aw-toe and you were cold as ice. Next thing I’m back, askin’ all them old domino an Jack niggas sittin’ around, you know, what’s their fuckin’ damage, where’s my fuckin’ radio? They tryin’ to fuck a brother ‘cause I brought a deaf dumb and blind cash money client to their criminal empire? Motherfuckers. ‘Take the deal, fool, you an the ghost take a walk’? Fuck they doin’, talkin’ that shit to me? Thinkin’ I didn’t come up in here, don’t know their shit?” He took a breath, smacked the door sill. “Fuck it. You drive, I’ll di-rect. Weekend comin’, college calls on Monday an I need some unwind time. You’ll be droppin’ me down to Lakewood at my little slice of heaven’s place. I’ll draw you a map home from it on the way.”

Jackson drove south out of east Compton, Dash ranted on Buster’s crew like they were his dysfunctional family while he took a BIC Stick and drew a map on a paper napkin that would have done a retentive Renaissance mapmaker proud. He had Jackson roll up slow on a semi-residential, semi-small business street in Lakewood and stop near the middle of the block.

“You get to the crib, call your people. Tell ‘em you’re alive and where you’re at, how wonderful your new friend Dash Man be. ‘Cause if San Andreas opens up an your white ass drops they can tell the bloodhounds start lookin’ for you in Long Beach. They need to find you and this ray-dee-oh on the west side, don’t need nobody sniffin’ around my shit in Compton. Least till Buster’s player’s caught some chill.”

“Anybody. You don’t want anybody, or anyone, sniffin’.”

“You gonna be the grammatically co-reckt English Nazi all the fuckin’ time? I thought you played music or some shit.”

“Habit. Can’t get sloppy. People take you more seriously when you don’t talk like a refugee from a corn field full of single-wides.”

“Your accent don’t clean up soon you’re gonna need all the help you can get you expect to gain some on serious.”

“Doesn’t. Not don’t. Accent doesn’t clean –”

“We have arrived, Jeeves. I doesn’t require your services any longer,” he interlocked his fingers, popped his knuckles. “You straight on how to get to the crib?”

“Yeah. And ‘don’t.’ That one was ‘don’t.’ Like that shit’s bad for your hands, don’t.”

“Get back to me, I ‘don’t’ got room in my head for any of that shit today. You know where the stash is. Blank’s for the drive.” Dash tossed a thin black cigarillo on the empty bucket seat, lit one of his own and walked away. Jackson leaned over to pick it up, looked out the window and damned if they hadn’t pulled up in front of a beauty shop called Little Slice of Heaven.

Certificate of Authenticity

When she saw the Welcome to Umbridge Enterprises sign, painted in a trendy whitewashed font on a plank sign on the side of the two lane, Annabelle whipped the rented Grand Cherokee across a small sea shell parking area in danger of being overgrown by saw grass, parked between a faded used-to-be-red Ram pickup and a new, black Mercedes SUV. She put her right hand in the square red leather shoulder bag, took the safety off her Glock, stepped out into the bright Florida sunshine.

She started across the fifty-foot arched wooden bridge paved with asphalt shingles that led to an unpainted, faded cedar shake façade manufactured home surrounded by a covered veranda that sported a random collection of patio and beach furniture and a pair of rusty propane grills. The waist high ballustrade was draped with fake fish nets, adorned with faded plastic starfish and seahorses. The whole mess sat on pilings over the St. Johns River narrows and tied to a floating dock behind it was her missing white Swamp Vue Cabrio.

***

Preston Umbridge clicked the remote, brought up the four-panel screen of security cameras on the wall mounted TV. “Either of you two pig fuckers order up a jigaboo hooker?”

“What the fuck, Boss? Fella was about to nail him a big ass gator an – whoa shit,” the dirty wife beater and camo cargos clad Pillsbury dough boy on the couch sat up. “Who the hell is that?”

“No shit ‘whoa shit’ Wally. Fuckin’ dumb ass.” The tall bony guy pulled on his waders, pointed at the screen. “That’s the nigger woman we done stole the boat from, that’s who.”

Umbridge dropped the remote on his desk. “You’re telling me you two idiots was so obvious stealin’ that boat a woman could find it? Shit.” He ran his hands over his hair and beard, wiped his lips with his thumb and forefinger. “Don’t just stand there, Steep, let her in ‘fore she breaks the goddam door down.”

Annabelle, black leggings and long tailed black silk blouse, matching red heels, earrings and purse stepped into the man cave of Umbridge Enterprises. “Good afternoon, gentlemen. Annabelle Monette. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”

Umbridge stood behind his desk, undisguised snicker in his voice. “Preston Umbridge, may-am.” He bowed. “To my right is Mr. Walrus. My associate Mr. Steeple let you in. Without an appointment.”

“I make my own appointments. Walrus I understand. Too much mustache, belly and ugly. Steeple makes no sense to me.” She studied the man walking back toward his boss. “Beanpole, maybe.”

“Now, now. Legend says Steep’s sainted Momma christened him with it just before she died, lookin’ out the hospital window at the First United Methodist Church of Mun-row bell tower.”

“I had an Ontie named Iris and she told the same story about flowers in her momma’s garden. We could go on about the Indian named Two Dogs Fucking in the Mud but let’s not waste each other’s time, gentlemen. I have come for my boat.”

“I’m sure we don’t have ‘your’ boat.” Umbridge tugged his longish manicured beard, puffed up. “And if we did, I doubt we’d return it. Things that end up here are like gifts. Or tithe offerings. Ain’t that right boys?”

“It’s the white Swamp Vue Cabrio tied off next to two patent and intellectual property theft counterfeits. Both to be confiscated and destroyed as contraband. The Swamp Vue is not now, nor was it ever, a gift.”

“The white one?” Umbridge put a point on ‘white.’ “That’s different. Lessee, Cabrio, Cabrio…I recall having a Bill of Sale for that somewhere.” He made a show of opening and closing drawers.

“Never you mind looking for it. I have an equally legitimate certificate of authenticity for the lock of our Lord and Saviour’s hair my Ontie Delores keeps in a Café Du Monde coffee tin and prays to five times a day.”

“Ain’t nothin’ any of us can do about our families, is there?” He slammed  the drawer he had open. “I also seem to recall Larson makes theirselves a Cabrio. Whattaya think it’s worth to them to find out about yours?”

“I’ve spoken to them and all the lawyers are satisfied that as I do not manufacture mid-cabin drug-running speed boats there is no conflict. That’s how it is when people cooperate. Had you come to me with a franchise manufacturing offer we might have bypassed all this unpleasantness. I am not a fool, Mr. Umbridge. After I talked to your local people, showed them the manufacturing paperwork, patent applications, all more than most around here could read in a lifetime I concluded that I needed to look elsewhere for assistance in recovering my property. And to come see for myself what a genuine corrupt, low life thief and liar Floor-ida bad man looked like.”

Walrus flicked open a three-inch lock back pocket knife, cleaned his index fingernail with it. “We don’t cotton to name callin’, now. Smokes and O-yays particular doin’ that shit ain’t seen much of after.”

“Where I came up in Detroit my momma’s paperboy was more dangerous, and considerably smarter than all three of you put together. I’m not here to get in a pissing contest with some Little Dick-ey Mafia fiefdom, I’m here for my boat and to bring you the gospel according to Annabelle Monette.”

Umbridge held out an arm to stop Walrus. “Which would be?”

“Not everyone is scared of you Mr. Umbridge. Least of all me. Come hell or high water, with or without your blessing, I will sell boats in central Florida.”

Walrus took a step. Without looking Annabelle pointed her non-purse hand at the television. “While we’ve been having our little chat, those gentlemen arrived to pick up my boat and destroy your copies.”

“What the hell?” Umbridge pulled a revolver from his desk drawer. “You two, what the fuck do I pay you for? Go stop those mother –”

“I wouldn’t. Those are Federal Marshalls. From Miami. Looking for you to give them a reason to level this place once I am safely out the door.”

“She’s fuckin’ lyin’.” Walrus took another step Anabelle’s way and one of the counterfeit Swamp Vues below went ka-whoooom. The explosion sent a geyser of water and debris up past the sliding patio doors at the back of the office, rained down on the roof.

Steeple slid the patio door open, leaned out over the veranda rail far enough to see the brown-water gun boat, look down the barrels of its 50-caliber machine guns. “She ain’t lyin’, Wally.” He glanced down further, counted at least eight red laser-sight dots on his chest, and froze. “No fuckin’ shit she ain’t lyin’.”

“And wired, too. Goddammit.” Umbridge grabbed Steep by the back of his fishing vest. “Git back in here ‘fore you piss yoursef.” He turned a red raged face at Annabelle. “We’ll continue this discussion, Annabelle Mo-nay. Soon.”

“My door is always open, gentlemen. If you come, wear shirts with sleeves. I only need to see three cheap, dirty white men in cheap, dirty wife beaters one time to know it’s not an experience I choose to repeat.”

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #7

Personal Accountability and THG III

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Chungwipff makes a good point about using WordPress for personal accountability in the comments of Adieu For Now.  A point I had mislaid somewhere in the Social Media wasteland. Create something. Put it up. Own it. Do it again. Forget what anyone else is doing, or not doing, or how what you do is received. Give it your best shot, be accountable to yourself. Get out of your own way, write your story. Your way. My Mantra had gone walkabout. Thank you, Chungwipff.

I bailed on my personal accountability based on what I perceived as a landscape largely without a threshold knob for the noise floor. No gate/expander, wide open. Foolishness, vagaries, rampant narcissism. Which are none of my damn business. I control the threshold of my personal noise gate. I hereby revoke my tantrum and resultant self-exile. I do not revoke my opinion(s) on the root cause. This started as a methodology for personal creative accountability, and so it continues. Nothing else matters.

I have been guilty of accusing others of things I once tried. Looking for the equation, the silver bullet that would make me a “writer.” I once took a Tony Hillerman novel apart. Because they read like glass and drop you right into the environment without travelogue. How much scene vs. dialogue vs. narration vs. internal dialogue. Seriously. I bark at people now because it was a waste of time. Timing of events for formula writing is important. The rest is all storytelling. I was fortunate enough that my father was friends with Tony’s father. He was older than my dad. My dad, like me, hung around places he wanted to be with his hobby. I turned my hanging into a career. My dad made side money. As a photographer and short story writer. Saturdays we’d go downtown and hang out at Hillerman’s Photography. When he had a large job, like team pictures, my dad would borrow the Hillerman drum dryer for his prints. Tony the author, a man who taught English in missionary schools for Native Americans and in Mexico, said there was no secret. He sat down in a room with his characters and an idea for a story, and off they went. He committed little hash to the page, and then he came back with wax on – wax off. He wrote a story, did the work. No magic. Except, I think, for listening to his own stories.

There is no Silver Bullet. There are formulas. For arcs, for story driving events. But there is no substitute for a well drawn yarn. What sets the really good like Hillerman and Vonnegut and Steinbeck and Hiassen and King, David Foster Wallace, and true genius like Virginia Wolff apart is their stories. And their style. Perhaps there are only X number of conflicts and plots. But stories? Stories are everything, and they deserve our best shot. Stories and their telling deserve our respect because they are a gift. Not everyone has the mindset to escape, to dream, to see the mirage that is an untold story. Respect your stories. Your loss if you don’t. All I’m sayin’.

THG III

Starting in a day or two, I will begin publishing The Hot Girl III – Cambridge. It is draft mode. I cranked it out and it has languished on my hard drive for three years. Once upon a time there was an editor who knew an editor who thought it was a good idea. Both of them are dead. Must have been a killer idea.

Unless you beta read The Hot Girl, you don’t know these people, and this is the only synopsis/player scorecard you’ll see –

The Hot Girl is a social commentary fairy tale. Feminism, gender role confusion and rock n roll from the late Seventies through the mid-Eigthies. A bit like the taming of the shrew, who doesn’t need taming along with self-discovery, the perception of abuse, coming of age, true love and destiny all wrapped in fairy tale.

For starters, two star crossed kids, like any good fairy tale. Angry ex cheerleader (Deanna) looking for a cause and Rock n Roll Prince Charming (Jackson), looking for a Princess. Deanna hears someone describe Jackson’s mother, before she knows the woman is his mother, as “An elegant hell in high heels.” And sets out to discover feminism, because elegant hell in high heels sounds like the best gig since head cheerleader turned out to be a bust. But she’s at a superficial level. Until Jackson introduces her to a pair of rich, over educated lesbian feminist fairy godmothers, Amanda and Alix Morisé, who can be found here. The Morisé’s own a huge real estate development company inherited from Amanda’s father. They run their empire from the 17th floor of an office building in middle America. 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower. And more than anything, they want women’s issues front and center, and they need a cheerleader. No one better qualified than an a very attractive, angry high school ex-cheerleader and overachiever with man issues, a sterling academic record and a temper. How Amanda meets Jackson in The Hot Girl I is an exercise in feminism kicking sexism’s ass, and listening to a woman. Deanna wants to know a real feminist, and Jackson, reluctantly, introduces them.

Think of a classic like Captain Blood. I wanted to write that, in different context, only I always wanted to know what the girl was up to while Errol Flynn was off pirating. I asked some women and they told me they didn’t know, but they’d be damned if she sat in her room reading poetry, sniffing roses and pining away while the non Pirate Prince Charmings of the world plied her with party invitations and gifts and scams and offers of wedding rings.

Some of THG is already up here, as short story. Here they will be presented in context. If you meet someone you don’t know, don’t worry, they won’t bite. Just climb in and take the ride.

THG III begins several years into Jackson and Deanna’s relationship and who she has become with his help. She is tired, again, of being told what to do. Tired of her mistakes in personal judgement dulling the sheen of her brilliant performances on the academic debate circuit where she takes feminism and throws it straight into the face of patriarchal strongholds and comes out with medals for both skill and humanitarianism. I will drop us all into what I call the “between narrative.” Between the bliss of young love and the glow of success, her mentor’s frustrations, and her need to run. Stay tuned.

Personal Accountability – Defined

I read an interview with Jeff Beck. He was asked why it takes a while between records.

“I’m the sort of bloke that’s like a ton of bricks, you know? I won’t be moved until I hear something that really sends me up in the air, then I’ll be around pestering everybody, playing for them. I can’t see the point in putting out an album, kidding yourself that it’s great, if you don’t believe it. You’ve got to believe in what you’re doing—and then you can take all the crummy reports that are going to come, and you can say, ‘Well, sod you, I like it.’ And that’s the main thing.”

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #6

“-LY” Words and Arn

“-ly” words. Adverbs. Descriptive tags. I avoid them like the plague. I stress over not using them. Yet, as the re-blog from the other day shows (blatantly), I am a sucker for them when they paint the proper picture.

I have been editing. For me that involves checking context, this follows that, clear dialogue attributions. And whacking things I wrote two (or three) times (often back to back in different ways) getting to what comes next. (Are you listening, George F?) But – most of my editing involves adding more than subtracting. To me? People tell stories, so I have dialogue. And I set the scene (admittedly on a word budget). “What else?” is a pervasive question when I’m doing that sort of editing. Because I’m unsure. Too little is too much for me most of the time.

This morning I read the first chapter of an older Robert Parker’s Spencer. From his office window Spencer watched a client get in her chauffeur driven Bentley through a gray, misty day. It “gleamed wetly” as it pulled away. There has to be a better way to describe that than turning wet into an ly word. Gleamed wetly. Really? That, and “said” forty times on a page where attribution was clear. And I idolized this guy. I have also noticed that there are a lot of expression tags. She said, disconsolately. She said, spritely. Once it starts up that stuff is like a rash you can’t rid of. But it is like sheetrock mud. It fills in the cracks. And nobody has to work for your story as it stops requiring any imaginative support on the reader’s part. To me it also puts you slightly out of the scene because instead of being in the middle of it, you are being directed. Subliminal, but still…

I caught myself writing  – “he found a strange comfort in the discordant sounds of a Long Beach Friday night as they mingled in distant, mellow cacophony before they found his open window.” That is some flowery shit for me. Do I have to write it? I don’t know. But it needed something besides “he fell in the bed with his window open.” And if you’d read up to that point you’d know that he has an infamous dive bar in the parking lot twenty feet behind and fifteen feet below his second-floor window, just off Ocean Blvd in Long Beach. I could fluff it up with drunks and dealers and low-riders with glasspacks and the ocean, but there has to be a cut-off point for the travelogue writing. And the easiest way is to avoid it altogether. You tell me.

I ass-u-me in dialogue that a lot of emotion is clear in the exchanges if the attribution is clear. I would write this –

Amanda Morisé’s office, Wednesday afternoon, November 1st, 1978

Amanda was standing, stretched across her big, clear desk doing something with a marker to an unrolled blue print, didn’t bother to look up.

“Jailbait, there is some viable reason for you to be in my office during business hours without Deanna?”

“Yeah. She’s done, Amanda. It’s over. All of this is over, I can feel it. The last one was the last one, if you’re picking that up.”

“You are speaking in riddles and I’m busy. Be clear, dear. Or be gone.”

Nowhere in there do I see the need for “she said, slightly annoyed.” Because she isn’t slightly annoyed, she’s curious. “She said, curiously.” Isn’t that redundant? Said, a ? and curiously? Which is one of my pet peeves in the “said” culture. It was a f*cking question, not a statement. I see it all the time “Are you okay?” she said. She asked, dammit. Okay?

Nor do I see the need for “jailbait” to clap his thighs in frustration or opt in on his demeanor. He will probably drop into her guest chair in a moment and we’ll get there. Nowhere do I see the need for tags.  Isn’t the resignation in his word choices and the disruptive but not entirely unwelcome appearance of this person obvious? Even if you didn’t have two books worth of backstory on their relationship? I can see some stilted dialogue from someone requiring the appearance of an “ly” if it was needed to set the tone. But you tell me. Is it? If it is, I can do that. But…

Yes, there are times and scenes and moods that you want to set with words, that we need to set with words. The thing about editing is that it makes me wonder if there aren’t hundreds of thousands of my words that are total rubbish because I’m allergic to tags. But not altogether if they help –

It was rainy and cold the first Friday of December. The drive had been dry in his car, but the non-working heater had left it cold. Jackson stood under the heater by the hostess stand for a minute, his jacket dripping.

“May I help you, sir? Are you expecting someone?” The hostess was a girl about his age wearing real lipstick, not lip gloss, and had her snotty on.

“She’s here someplace. So tall,” he held out his hand at about five-four. “Long, blondish brown hair?” He wanted to describe her figure, just to piss snotty off, checked it. “Can I go look?” He didn’t wait for an answer. After a summer of snotty lipstick girls he’d figured out that they all thought they ran the place when they were really no more than attractive speed bumps between the door and a table.

There. Attitude for everyone involved, no work for anyone.

Out of that quagmire of self-pity and curiosity into  – Dialect

Rule of thumb is “don’t.” I say as needed. I am the world’s worst for gonna and wanna and contractions. I am from the south. I’ve read a lot of stilted Indie (and mainstream) dialogue that would have benefitted from a little casualizing. People’s voices change, their delivery and inflection changes, with emotion. Aw, man. I don’t wanna go to the…Or. Look. I am not going to the…Either one of those, finished could have found their own LY tag. But contextually I don’t think they need me to direct you to how they’re feeling. That wasn’t this discussion. Apologies.

JD MacDonald slipped into some vernacular in a book and it was drawn his way and I had to go back and read it three times to get it. He didn’t go full on phonetics, he wrote new words wrapped in backwards apostrophes. Jeez. Elmore Leonard says not to load up your pages with apostrophes. I disagree with both of them. Write it so whoever is reading it gets the gist without struggling for it. I have a character from coastal Louisiana headed for New Or- lee-uns, as people from elsewhere might say. In narrative I would say he’s headed for New Orleans. If in dialogue, I’d have him say – “Headed for Nawlins, Junior. You comin’?” Because no redneck gets in his truck and says – “I am going to New Orleans, Junior. Would you like to come along with me?” No more than an ex-cop and an ex-boxer would say, under heavy gunfire ripping through their cabin, “Well, what shall we do?” I read that one. Honest to God. Here’s a funny story about dialect and I’ll get off my soapbox.

I did a handful of clinics with Larry Londin. He was the drummer for Motown during the Supremes era. There are other stories of his and Lamont Dozier’s that are priceless, but I’ll put on the limiter. When Larry was done with Motown he moved to Nashville as a session drummer. On his first session he set up, rehearsed some, they ran down the tune. When it was over, through the headphone talkback came “Hey you, new drummer boy. Don’t use no arn.” Larry thought WTF? Arn? He nodded, they ran the tune down again. Halfway through the tape stops. “Don’t use no arn this time,” the engineer said, edgily (!). Larry is still trying to figure out what arn is and they get the count-in. Not even to the first chorus and the tape stops. The engineer slams his chair back, stomps out into the studio. “Godammit, I said don’t use no arn,” and he proceeds to take Larry’s cymbals off their stands.

Iron. (Cymbals are copper based alloys). Euphemistically, and in a very narrow subcultural vernacular, they were a drummer’s “iron.”

When it gets to be a reach I’d have that redneck in a truck say “Gawldarn it, Junior, we got us flat tire.” Because “flat tar” would be a double take a lot of places. Particularly if the damn thing got hot and caught far. I say vernacular and dialect and even subcultural slang, in small doses, and apostrophes wherever you want, are okay. If they are true to your character’s voices. But watch your Arn.

Random NVDT – Writerly Concerns #5

Attention Economy

Not long ago I made mention of Revising Prose by rhetorician Richard Lanham. That, and another of his books, The Economy of Attention: Style and Substance in the Age of Information should be read by anyone who communicates with the written word. In 1979 he identified the burgeoning modern trend of stringing words and prepositional phrases together ad nauseum to make a point. His example was no one can write “Jim kicks Bill” anymore. I won’t plagiarize his work. I will tell you this – read the first chapter (eight short pages) of Revising Prose and it will make you think better, write better, and not commit wordiness to the page. It will scare indefinite comparisons and “is,” “was,” “will be,” “seems to be” “of” and other “weak” verb glue out of your writing vocabulary for any purpose other than dialogue. If you’re like me, the first eight pages will hook you into going further into what I harp on. Sentence length, rhythm and sound. But if you read no more than those first eight pages, your word count will have dropped 45% before it ever hits the page.

I was made painfully aware of the failure to write “Jim kicks Bill” and what that directly entails in my own work, as well as in published authors’. Example – I read Richard Rayner’s 2005 The Devil’s Wind, his paean to Noir. I referred to it in another post, namelessly, as “soft boiled.” It was wrapped in “language” and “writerliness” and when he occasionally hit a “Jim kicks Bill” line it stuck out like a pew rattling fart. Rayner disregarded economy of attention (Elmore Leonard’s rule “Try to leave out the part readers tend to skip”), and I found myself skipping blocks of Rayner’s text that proved he was a writer and had done research but stalled the story. Writerliness that became an overturned eighteen-wheeler on the freeway at rush hour. Had all that excess backstory been committed on the front end and led me into the book on it’s own, defining the character? Fine. War hero changes last name, turns architect. But in the middle of the action here’s an unnecessary two-page flashback?

Virginia Wolff called thoughts “arrows.” Thoughts are often a component of stream of consciousness. Arrows with a point, that hit a target, agreed. Arrows that eat up two pages of word count way past time to be important to our understanding of the character? WTF? Granted, Rayner stylized the novel like a Noir film. I could see Mitchum sweating in black and white, staring into the bathroom mirror reliving his war experience, his white shirt gone limp in the desert heat, tucked roughly into his armpit high pleated slacks belted across his ribs. Close up of his face, maybe he pulls his bottom lids down, cue the WWII bomber footage. But it wasn’t written that way. It was a novel, not a screenplay. Which are Rayner’s claim to fame. Attention economy isn’t on the menu for Hollywood, as witnessed by this season’s incredibly boring three episodes turned into ten of Bosch. The last two aimless seasons of Justified after Leonard died. And furthered into the reading realm by books like The Devil’s Wind(iness).

“Jim kicks Bill”

I stumbled over a 1959 John D MacDonald, The Beach Girls. It has character building with dialogue scenes that should be in a textbook. I had never looked at MacDonald in any light beyond my father’s hand me down pulp with the possibilty of sex scenes. Looking at JDM in the light of verbal economics explains why authors as diverse as Vonnegut, Block, Hiassen, Koontz, Leonard, Parker, King, Philbrick, have all dedicated works to, and sung the praises of, MacDonald. My favorite description of MacDonald is “verbally precise.” Simply because he writes “Jim kicks Bill.”

Following on the heels of war and the first half of the 20th century “attention economists” like Cain, Hammett, Hemingway and Steinbeck, MacDonald leaves no doubt in your mind what is on a waning Southern Belle’s mind about an arrogant asshole. Not, “Sally thought it seemed like she felt angry whenever…” Instead he writes, “When he grins I find myself thinking how fine it would be to kick him square in the face.”* Hot damn. “Jim kicks Bill.” Emotion. No PC. No apology. Real people thoughts. Check this out. It should have its own Flash Pulitzer. “He’s a small souled man, but picturesque.”* BAM. I am amazed at how much story, how many fabulous, precise one liners are in one of those thin JDM books. If reading one does nothing but embarrass you out of trivial minutia in your storytelling and sharpen your “point,” it is worth the read as a textbook exercise.

As an example, I have a now-offended ex-friend who wrote a book. I know the guy can write, so I offered to read it as he beta read for me. It took him and his family 7,000 words to get from the curb to boarding an airplane. Another 6k to get to Paris. He was striving for humor, via overwritten minutia, hyperbole and simile. By the time they were done with the currency change kiosk, before the first security check, I was done and didn’t care what happened after that. Why? Attention Economy. Dave Barry can go to a convention in Hawaii, with his family, take a charter sightseeing boat, eat dinner and have you laughing so hard you might fall off the commode. In 2k. Or go to the proctologist with the same effect in 500. Attention Economy. Think Billy Connolly or Robin Williams on stage. It isn’t a matter of being passively entertained, it’s a matter of keeping up. No special effects. Precision phrasing. “Jim kicks Bill.” I once had a beta reader tell me that with all the dialogue a book I wrote moved almost too fast. I was upset. Now I am proud.

Mind the POV

Every modern editor with a blog has a mantra. “Watch Your POV.” With first person, you really have to watch it, and often need to narrate the adventures of other characters or share scenes with them as they are living through the “I”. Usually. There is a WordPress author, marple25mary, who writes short, delightful flights of fancy vignettes. They involve the same set of rotating characters. I can’t follow them like there’s a story line because my head will explode. They are like cupcakes. I enjoy them for what they are. Down to POV.

For over a year I read her stuff and thought the woman had a monstrous case of AADD. She knows, I mentioned it. I thought she was all over the map. What do Mary’s vignettes, JDM’s The Beach Girls and editorial admonitions have in common? Watch the POV – shift! Each of Mary’s offerings hands the first person POV to whoever is the “star” of the scene. It took me forever to catch that. Every chapter of The Beach Girls tells the story from different members of a boat dock community’s POV. Previously I have only seen drastic POV shift in the epistolary format. Maybe I have led a sheltered literary existence. But it’s a discomfiting mind bender to flip the page and be in someone else’s first person account of an unfolding story. The shifting “I”. Brilliant, if you can pull it off, and in JDM’s case it’s used in a new take on the “stranger comes to town” vehicle. As if everyone in High Plains Drifter is giving their POV of Clint Eastwood. POV shift is easy onscreen. Change camera angles, change the POV. Turn the page, no visuals? Ouch!

To me, “I” is singular. “I” am me. Which is why I usually write third person. “I” am not a gunfighter or skirt hound or detective or leap tall buildings in a single bound. “I” am not important. “I” can see it as a storytelling device. “Let me tell y’all ‘bout the time ‘I’ had a crazy jealous woman in one hand, a scalp hungry Injun in the other, a rattler in my boot and seen the tax man comin’ my way, no horse in sight.” That’s a story, by a single person. But to turn the page and get the woman’s account, and then the Injun’s and then the tax man’s, all in first person?

Gawldamn, I got fences to mend and this damned woman is about a handful of I hate you, good for nothing tomcatting SOB and if you let go of my throat I’ll bite your ear off before I’ll have good hunting with plenty firewood for my winter teepee with this white eyes hair ledgers that tell me I have a decent commission coming on this clown that thinks he can write off sunglasses because he’s outside all the I can’t hold her off much longer. I’ll take my chance with the injun and I’ll kill the SOB’s slutty girlfriend if I don’t strangle first…on and on. I repeat. Ouch.

Watch your POV. Unless you’re Mary or JDM. Mind your attention economy regardless of who you are, or people will skip your writerliness and miss your story. Leave tap dancing to professionals and say exactly what you want the reader to hear. Write your stories with the power of each phrase’s direct effect. If people wrote music like any number of popular authors write books, there would be chaos and people rolling in the streets screaming with their hands over their ears. Much like the first public performance of Bolero.

Takeaway? “Lanham, MacDonald and company kicks Phil’s ass.”

 

Invest in yourself. Lanham is here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpRnAJuy-Ck

*The Beach Girls – © 1959 John D MacDonald

Painted Ladies

Tuesday September 11, 1979 – Los Angeles

The rattle of locks and chains stopped the heel of Jackson’s fist from landing on the warehouse door for his third set of bam, bam, bam. The locks continued to rattle against the galvanized door, up the left side, down the right, then the middle. The rattles stopped, nothing happened for long enough he considered announcing himself to see if that would help. An electric motor behind the door started grinding, the door split in the middle and rolled away across the front of the almost waterfront warehouse. Three mid-twenties Art and Dance grad school girls in loose clothes, all sporting a tangible air of caution, were spread out across the opening, the two on either side holding three-foot long steel pry bars. The middle one looked right and left down the alley with no name, waved to a forklift driver two buildings down before she turned back to him.

“Jackson?”

“Yeah. I –”

“Who was your ref again?”

“Audrey. Boriman. Atlanta Bal –”

She pulled him inside, the grinding commenced, considerably louder inside than out, and the doors came together behind him with a boom that seemed to reverberate forever.

“Sorry.” All three of them frisked him. “Weirdos. You never know.” The one who’d pulled him inside left them, lifted several industrial breakers and flooded the space with light.

Old welded angle iron and pine-plank bleachers like the ones at high school practice fields were arranged in a loose horseshoe in the middle of the warehouse. He knew by heart from reading the seat bottoms when he was a kid they’d hold “approximately 105 adults or 3, 250 lbs.” On the floor in the center of the horseshoe was a twenty by twenty-foot pad resembling a boxing ring. Its edges, the floor around it and the first couple of rows of the bleachers were splattered with paint.

“Aja,” the middle one, introduced herself. “Hope Audrey knew what she was talking about.” She stripped down to her flip flops. “Hard to find good help these days. Everybody can talk, nobody can do.”

“Uh…” Jackson eyed the other two still gripping their pry bars. “The ad in the  practice hall said ‘Painted Ladies Dance Troupe seeks non-derivative sound artist.’ There wasn’t anything about, um…Clothing being, optional?”

“Are you high?”

“No, but I –”

“Excellent.” Naked Aja grabbed him by the elbow and pulled him across the warehouse while she talked. “What we do is totally dependent on a high level of intuitive interpersonal communication. We can’t…No, we won’t have the integrity of our work disgraced by tainted sensory reception.”

It was getting weirder, but art and dance majors all talked a stream of crazy shit most of the time, with or without their clothes, and he could hang right in the middle of it with them.

Aja marched him to the far, open edge of the splattered pad, lifted the lid on a good sized wooden shipping crate and proceeded to pull out a wide assortment of junk and toss it in his direction.

Jackson caught a few of them, had to let others clang and bang on the floor. Juggling metallic kitchen utensils and construction site junk in a “surprise, I’m naked!” interview wasn’t what he expected.

Aja continued to toss until she was satisfied with the mess of debris at his feet, dusted her hands. “Make us some music.”

He squatted, went through the chunks of pipe, enameled wooden boxes and paint sticks, kitchen spoons, stainless steel dog food and salad bowls, sheet aluminum, a bowling ball with a chunk missing, a small galvanized flower pot with French writing on the side and other junk.

“Lots of it, but not much to work with.” He held up a wooden meat tenderizing hammer, thunked it on a bowl suspended from a banana hanger, got a dull bunggggg for his effort. “Short term interesting, not very good percussion is the only possibility for most of this. The wash basin and some marbles would make a decent groove. Nothing lyrical. I’m not sure what you expect here.”

“You’re the ‘Sound Artist.’ Make something wonderful happen.”

He knew they were waiting for him to fold or build a drum set out of dog food bowls and fold even harder. He looked past the two expressionless security girls leaning on their weaponized pry bars, scanned the warehouse.

“That.” He pointed to the far corner where a version of every church basement and grandmother’s house upright piano sat, adorned with a psychedelic multicolored paint job and partially draped with a splattered canvas painter’s cloth. “I need that.”

“It will never be in tune. Piano players are like gum under church pews, and Piano Man is not who we…” She stopped, weighed his enthusiasm against her cynicism, waved in the piano’s direction. “We let you in.”

There was something unsettling in a naked girl with her fists on her hips in that “You’re wasting my time” way watching him push the piano across the warehouse, the ancient brass casters screeching on concrete.

He scattered the pile of junk with his foot, spent a few minutes modifying the piano with odd bits and pieces, set a chunk of steel on the damper pedal. At first he coaxed some eerie, metallic drones out of it by scraping the strings with a steam basket, ringing occasional dissonant bells from the top end with a medium sized aluminum serving ladle. He looked up and all three of them were naked, rolling all over the mat in and out of what he recognized as modern dance poses. He abused the strings and soundboard with other objects from the floor, monitoring the ‘dance’ out of the corner of his eye and adjusting his output to their activity dynamics as best he could until they folded into each other. He smashed a raspy, banged strings-on-aluminum-strip from the upper middle of the sound board and stood, eyes closed and arms wide while the warehouse’s huge natural reverb decayed around them.

“Cool. The room lets you stand inside it.” He absently set two metal ladles on top of the piano along with several lengths of galvanized pipe. “I need an egg beater like I used with Aud. More dynamics.” With the steel block still resting on the pedal he played a slow, out of tune arpeggio that rang through the warehouse like distant church bells on acid.  “Man. I could get up inside of that with one and –”

All three of them, naked and slightly sweaty, hugged him. They helped him toss the excess junk back in the crate and dressed before they led him to a glassed-in upstairs office that overlooked the small arena and handed him a steaming pottery class cup.

“Honest to God fresh roasted coffee.”

His first instinct was to refuse. After his last three girls and their Timothy Leary’s Gatorade in New Mexico he liked to watch his drinks being mixed. But they were all drinking from the same pot. He might die crazy, but not alone.

Aja pulled a chair away from an old, metal, paint splattered like everything else in the warehouse work table, pushed a box of donuts his way. “I was afraid you were another Bartok tone cluster wannabe. But…” She looked at him with clear, appraising eyes. “That was amazing. Magical.” She checked in telepathically with her two partners who had left their pry bars downstairs. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” one of the ex-pry bar girls laughed. “Thanks for being the most disappointing real piano player in L.A.” A comment that in any other context he might have found disturbing.

***

“You got a gig doing wha?” Dash had to set the bong on the counter while he coughed. “Sheee-it, my man. Fine, nekkid women rollin’ around in paint? However much they payin’ you be too much. As you have piqued my interest, what is the entry fee to witness this creative endeavor?”

Jackson loaded and fired the bong. “Two-hundred and fifty dollars.” He blew a series of smoke rings. “Fifteen hundred in the paint splatter zone. I figure they have to gross close to a hundred grand for a full house.”

“Call me Sambo, slap my momma, order pizza for later. You shittin’ me?”

“Nope. The canvas auctions start at twenty grand. Unless they find something artistically disagreeable on one or it won’t fit in the buyer’s space and cut it up into smaller pieces that add up to more money. I’m going to a show at some Warbucks’ pad in Malibu on Sunday. I have to be ‘Rasputin’ for a while, but you can hang if you’ll play my awestruck, culturally underprivileged token sidekick.”

“Depend first upon what a Rasputin be. I refuse to be seen in such an enlightened environment wearing a Sunset Boulevard at midnight bulldog collar.”

“None of that. I’m supposed to blow my hair up crazy, take kitchen utensils out of the host’s drawers and gently abuse the inside of their grand piano in a cocktail piano version of what I do at the paintings. While they all eat shrimp cocktail and talk art and admire their wall size naked chicks in paint art.”

“And what do you say as you peruse their drawers for these magical implements of sonic construction?”

“Nothing. I grunt, but not too dangerously, and if pressed I guess I’ll tilt my head with an air of quizzical seriousness, like a dog that doesn’t get it.”

“Sheeee-it. It is my assumption, as your friend and confidant in this affair, they be payin’ you way too much for that artistically suspicious activity as well?”

“Mama said stand up tall when confronted by a truth.”

“Then you are an artistic fraud of the highest order.”

“I prefer carefully constructed poseur.” Jackson raised his hand, wiggled his fingers like a magician. “An elaborate accessory to the festivities.”

“Fraud by any other name. I am down, my brother. For shrimp and a rich white people in Malibu tableau I will become the epitome of Buckwheat and suspend belief in any creative photography degree that bears my name.”

La Soirée Dansante

Band guys got a pass on the Women’s room, if it was empty, the men’s was loaded and they posted a guard. Jackson qualified on all counts and hit the women’s room at The Regent. He stood in front of the mirrored wall, took in the marble, gold tone fixtures, the leather and velvet chairs in the ‘parlor’. The fine art prints, framed quotes from famous women written in calligraphy. It was what he thought the hotels must have been like when he heard old recordings of bands from the Forties.

“From the ballroom of the fabulous Regent, high atop Oilman’s Bank Tower rising like Xanadu above the waving wheat and Oil derricks of Oklahoma we bring you…” It folded right there because he’d forgotten what band name Glenn said they were using for the best New Year’s 1975 gig around. But the women’s room was posh. He’d heard the phrase “tart’s palace” used to describe one, probably equally as posh, in the –

“Jackson?” His drummer watchdog tapped on the door, rhythmically and not too quietly. “Whip it out, get it on and get over it, bro. Women are dancing in the aisles out here.”

Jackson finished tucking his shirt tail in, checked his zipper twice, shrugged into his tux jacket, made sure he’d flushed and complied with the unwritten seat down rule. He reached for the polished brass handle and stopped for another calligraphy quote attached to the inside of the women’s room door.

There are only two things in life that should be hard. One of them is Jolly Ranchers. All else troublesome is merely difficult. – Amanda Morisé

***

Three songs into the third set Glenn said the slow acoustic version of “Wonderful World” was up, by special request, so everyone in the band but Robbie the bass player got a free break song. Jackson stepped off the riser thinking he’d shunted all the “Do you wanna dance” requests by now. Alix asked this time, her French accent caressing her words.

“You would dance with me, when again there is music?”

“Sorry, can’t. I’m working.” He tried a sidestep.

“As am I.” She smiled, took his hand and he was out into the dance floor with her like his feet and hers were on the same wavelength. She set herself in front of him, right in front of him, caught his eyes with the sparkle in hers. “There is the problem, of you and girls?”

“I like girls just fine, but —”

“I am the girl most as you should like them, I think. So we dance, no?”

When he heard the intro, he took Alix’s right hand with his left, put his right hand on her hip, and pulled her left and back.

Don’t know much bi-ol-o-gee-ee…

“The old-fashioned way? I am such the ugly goose? The old foggy?”

“Duck. And fogey. Old fogey. No, you’re not. I don’t dance much, slow dance even less, that’s all. I’ll box step, you add what you want. I’ll try not to let you fall.”

“For such there are reasons? Medical? Mental?”

“When I was eleven or twelve, my parents sent me to this place on Friday nights. Something Soirée.”

Soirée. So bad for you, the party?” He moved her around in a big square, not too awkwardly. It didn’t hurt that she seemed to read his mind when he needed to turn her, and her waist was made for his hand.

“Our parents sent us, boys and girls. It was a fake party, a party class. They played records, taught us how to ask a girl to dance. How to bow, how to curtsy.”

“Ahh! As was I taught!” She took a half step back, curtsied fluidly in perfect time with the music, and stepped back into his hands. “A curtsy most professional was obtained by you, after such instruction?”

“No, I….”

“In fairness the gentleman must demonstrate as well, no?”

“I…” Damn…He waited for the downbeat, let go of her and folded into his well-rehearsed Cary Grant stage bow, caught her left hand on his way up, brushed it with his lips and raised it. She spun out and back into place like they’d never been apart.

“Delightful!” She leaned in closer. “More was learned, I think, in la soirée?

“They taught us to be ‘polite and considerate,’ not to run like a herd of cows to the couple of girls back then who already had boobs. I had to learn the ‘important social graces’.”

“Most important I think, not to run at girls with breasts. You learned this well, to snuck up on the breasts?”

“Sneak up. Yeah, but after that, we were about halfway through their program and I asked my dad if I could stop going. He asked me why, I told him it was boring. My mother had beaten all of that manners stuff into me already, so I got the polite rules.  He said, ‘Your mother won’t like it, but I’ll sell it for you’. So I missed the second half, the dance lessons.”

“So boring for you, oui? To ask most politely of the girls without breasts a dance, more instruction of the curtsy?”

Don’t know much about the French I took…

“No, the real problem was, well, around then if I even got too close to a girl, held her hand, danced with her, just being that close, I got…Excited. Couldn’t control it.”

“Excited? You had the freak down and break out?”

“Freak out, break down. No, I got a banana in my pants, okay? Out of nowhere, there it was. I had on loose dress slacks, it was embarrassing. So I always slow dance this way, just in case.”

“Oh, my love…” Alix laughed, almost tripped. Jackson caught her, and they were in a full-on dip. He could smell her perfume, felt her breath on his neck before he pulled her up. “Only in dancing you become excited, or the closeness les femmes?”

“The closeness anywhere, I guess. That summer my mom bought me this way off swimsuit. It was tight, some kind of knit stuff, with orange stripes. It looked like it was painted on, you know, ‘look everybody, here’s my biz!’ It was worse because we’d go to the pool, there were girls in bikinis and the same excited thing would happen. I spent the whole summer in the water, turning into a prune. I got a tan from the shoulders up.”

“The most excited prune, no? With the banana of pants for swimming?” She fell out again. “Would you not ask your mother for the pants of swimming more forgiving in such ways?” She was laughing harder, people were staring at the band guy dancing with the “French Morisé” in big baggy I Dream of Jeannie silk pants.

“Alix, how do you tell your mom, ‘When I walk past a girl I get a chub, I need some jams to hide it’?”

Thank God the song was over. Alix was still laughing when she kissed him on the cheek and thanked him for the dance. Break out and freak down ho-lee shit for real. It was a good thing his underwear was tight because Amanda’s partner was made out of female electricity. He’d only grazed her hip when she’d tripped and that was all it took.

***

“The boy…Your petit amour…” Alix was having trouble talking through her laughter. “My champagne?”

Amanda handed Alix her glass. “Why did you ask him to dance? I told the girls to leave him alone, with the exception of Beverly in that two-extra-cheeks-to-powder skirt.”

“Ah, my love, for one so youngHe sees the woman, not the skirt. Yet he dances with me as his mother, no? This, I think, is the boy who visits you, on the day of your phone call most disruptive. Work I must do and Amanda, always most severe, at once she is the giggles and laughs of the schoolgirl? I decide I must see your petit amour, oui? To hear myself as he speaks most cleverly to you.”

“Was that it, the dancing giant’s story? He told you that?”

“No, my love, he told to me stories of a young boy awakened. Of the instruction in
la soirée dansante, and the pool for swimming where he was most troubled by that which is hard and unforgiving.”

Amanda folded her arms, studied her champagne glass. “Life is hard and unforgiving, Alix.”

“As is that which is not the Jolly Rancher, my love.”

 

The dance and two song lines are courtesy of “What a Wonderful World” by Sam Cooke

In the Strongest of Terms

The real world has left Bobby B in the swamp between Lafayette and Baton Rouge with $2 million. So, in the meantime – In my Fairy Tale, the Minstrel Prince and Bookworm Feminist Princess share a pair of Lesbian Fairy Godmothers. One of them is a rich, impatient, no nonsense French lawyer named Alixandrie, who was introduced here

***

Jackson held the door of his apartment for Alix, kicked the pizza box out of her way and picked up the green plastic trash bag Dash should have taken outside.

“Should your mother and Amanda discover how you live, my custody of your welfare would be questioned. My love, the word…encombrement most extreme.”

“Clutter?”

Oui! Your French, it improves! You know of the clothes? How which is to who?”

“I’m the one who doesn’t wear nylon underwear. The jeans are pretty easy to tell, and all the socks go in one basket.”

“A commune of chaussettes?”

“Socks. I know that one. Will you knock it off with the French?”

“My love, the shock. Most severe. I may assist you, perhaps Saturday? I require from you only the protective gloves. As well for the odor, something, yes? In return as now my kitchen becomes beautifully new by your skill?”

“Alix, you can’t come help me clean, and you don’t owe me anything for installing your new appliances. This place? Dash is leaving after Christmas. I’ll make some changes after that happens. I’ll clean it up, you can help me pick some furniture.”

“Oh petite amour how you may survive?  Vous vivez de cette façon et l’étude?”

“Come on Alix, more than one?”

“Ah, forgive me petit amour. I have said you live as such and study? C’est impossible.”

“It’s college, Alix. American college, not Deanna’s postcard college.”

“Your voice, the tone of it, how do you say, ‘It sells you out?’ The weight of your worry, my love. Release it. She, I believe, is well.” Alix let the weight of compassion in her comment hang for a moment above the piles of laundry, the pizza boxes, beer and Sprite cans, hoped Deanna’s recent fear and relief hadn’t entered her own voice. “As you ask of me I speak with her when she telephones. We are as thieves that whisper in the night. Amanda, should she discover us, may, as you say, ‘take the big shit.’”

“I didn’t mean for Deanna to be a —”

“Shhh. Certain troubles of women must be shared only with another woman. Even a girl as the Little Jewel has such times. As you, she becomes mine. She belongs to all of Morisé, but time is required to soften and heal damaged hearts. Written on time, the tales of our hearts, no?” She picked up and immediately dropped a pair of jeans, went to the sink and ran water over her fingers. “Kennedy, la petite ballerine who speaks with me in French the times we are together? You have spoken? She has danced Tchaikovsky well, cracked the nuts of Baltimore?”

“She stole the shows, got rave reviews, said to tell you ‘Joyeux Noël.’  The night before she left she got past her big metaphysical facade and told me about what really hurt and after she unloaded she said she felt ‘beautiful’ again. Just before she fell asleep on the couch.”

“Your charms, my love, known well are they not to become tiresome? In your favor, a woman who may unfold her dreams and pain without fear becomes beautiful always.  As also unfolds the towel that does not offend the nose?”

“Second drawer down, on your right. No, your right”

She dried her hands, made a face and tossed the towel into the middle of the room with the scattered dirty laundry. “You will see your mother at Christmas? She worries.”

“No, she’ll be dealing with little brother and his ‘might marry this one, might be pregnant’ girlfriend and that’s too much. You’re the only one who knows what’s really going on out here. What do you tell her that she worries?”

“I fear to describe to her the truth. No, I tell her always of your concern for her and your father. Of your success. Not of the vulgar music, the diet of pizza and fizzy sugar drinks, the most unsuitable petite danseuse who with you destructs my furniture, not of this,” she looked around the apartment, “this…house for the dog.”

“Your coffee table was my fault, don’t blame it on Logan. We were practicing for that stupid dance class, I got my feet tangled up with hers and we fell. You got a new coffee table for my birthday.”

“Pfffft! I have heard in words of your own how you become with la femme in the closeness of ‘dance.’ Destined to become the two of you in a dance most horizontal, no? ‘Dance’ as such furniture becomes destructed escapes even me. And I am French.” She waved her hand in a wide arc at the apartment again. “This…No, no more. It becomes…Intolerable, oui? Come. I desire spicy food and the Mexican biere rouge. No lime. Tonight I discover in it a green pepper most divine I think. We go where you know of the angry men who debate with us what we eat.”

She stepped over the pizza box that kept sliding back in the doorway, kicked it backwards with her heel, turned, looked up and put her finger on his nose. “Saturday, my love. I arrive and make uses of myself. Or before it shall be clean. You are advised. In the strongest of terms.”

Bobby B – Gator Bait

Carrie Louise screamed a split second before the shotgun blast. Birds exploded from the cypress canopy, the surface of the water boiled with leaping frogs, crickets, surprised fish and a lone gator. The sound and accompanying activity rolled away across the bayou in an expanding halo. Bobby couldn’t look down where he hoped his feet still were, saw the look of sheer panic in Carrie Louise’s eyes, steeled himself and waited for the blast from the second barrel. CL was shaking so hard she couldn’t pull the hammer back. Bobby took a second, glanced down to see the snake that had dropped into the boat from the tree branches overhead slither through the new hole in his dad’s old, flat bottom swamp skiff. CL screamed bloody murder again when she couldn’t make the sawed-off shotgun work, started to launch it into the swamp after the snake when Bobby snatched it away.

The silence in the aftermath bordered on church-like except for the soft gurgle of the swamp slowly filling the boat.

“Dayum, girl.”

“Dayum yourself, Bobby B.” CL, white as a ghost, held her legs out straight in front of her above the encroaching water, narrowed her eyes. “It was a, a…A snake. You saw it. I…And…You know how much I hate fuh, fuh, snakes.”

“Do for a fact.” He wiggled his feet to prove they were still there, whistled softly. “Dayyy-um.”

Bobby had no idea how deep the water was, but he dumped what had drifted into his dad’s waders, pulled them on and tied a knot in the shoulder straps while the boat slowly settled toward the water line. Carrie Louise cussed a blue streak of randomly constructed profanity under her breath, her heels now resting on the rusty oarlocks, the water closing in on her cutoffs.

He stepped out into water waist-deep on his average to a little tall, twelve-year-old frame, let the breath he’d been holding go. His dad’s waders were up to his chin, so unless a snake slopped over the top they were good. He sloshed the few steps to Carrie Louise.

“When I turn around, climb on my shoulders. Baby style, not piggyback.” He handed back the shotgun. “You see a gator, CL? Or another snake? Holler and let me shoot. Got it?”

“Okay. But you can’t drop me in, in there. In this…You can’t.” She looked over her shoulder in the direction the snake had taken off, climbed on his shoulders. She wrapped her arms around his forehead, her legs tucked under his arms, heels almost touching the base of his neck. “How far is it?”

“As far as it is.”

“Big help. Do NOT drop me.” She shivered involuntarily. “Please.”

“No need to get all polite, CL. You have the shotgun.”

Bobby took a minute to get his bearings, knowing how his dad was gonna raise all sorts of hell about the trolling motor. Once dad knew he could find it and the water wasn’t very deep they’d be back to get the motor, take it home, dry it out and rebuild it on the garage floor. He’d rebuild it, dad would drink beer and give bad advice, mom would put some vodka in her iced coffee or tea and read the latest and greatest from the library where she worked. And pretend to watch them like she cared while whatever was in the oven turned black.

***

Carrie Louise climbed off his shoulders on to dry ground and started screaming again when Bobby waded out. Another snake had hitched a ride, its fangs embedded in the thick rubber heel of the waders. Bobby saw CL point the shotgun at his foot and screamed with her. She shoved the shotgun into his chest, took off down the finger of two-lane ruts that cut through the swamp. Bobby picked up the shotgun, put the barrel against the snake’s head and pushed until the snake lost its grip and recoiled away. He had one shell in the sawed-off swamp boat gun, and he might need it for more than a snake dumb enough to hit waders.

***

Sheriff Sheridan Wylie, a little overweight in a uniform and life vest that fit a couple of years ago, swung Terrebonne Parish Swamp Patrol Boat number 2 alongside the finger of dry land and waited for the two stragglers in the shimmering heat haze headed his way, a .40 caliber pistol, safety off, behind his back.

“Well, I do declare. Carrie Louise Roche and Bobby Buisson. You might crack that shotgun open and hand it to me, young Mister Bobby. Go a looooong ways toward keepin’ my blood pressure under control.”

“Yes sir.” Bobby broke the sawed-off open, offered it butt first. “Sorry.”

“Think nothin’ of it.” Wylie took the sawed-off, holstered his pistol. “What’s a coupla lethal weapons between friends? Now, y’know, when I got the call about two kids with a shotgun wandering the Mauvais Bois, I thought maybe I had me some lost poachers or the next Bonnie and Clyde. Hell no, ain’t nothin’ to it but Houma’s own double trouble.”

The Sheriff unloaded both shells from the shotgun, dropped them in his life vest pocket, set the shotgun on top of the instrument and radio cluster. “You can give that sawed off I don’t know is the wrong side of legal back to your daddy after I’ve carried you two home. And you done told me about the spent shell.”

He helped them step off into the boat, handed them both life vests. Bobby told him about CL and snakes and the new hole in his dad’s old skiff while they cinched themselves into the vests. The sheriff and Bobby laughed, Carrie Louise moped. Satisfied with their vests Sheriff Wylie idled the boat around and out into the swamp in no kind of hurry.

“Either a you two been gone long enough anybody’d be worried? No? Best news I’ve had all day.” He squeezed the trigger on the mic. “Wylie. Armed poachers turned into a shallow water equipment failure rescue. No casualties, no prisoners, no medical required. Swamp rats name of Buisson and Roche need deliverin’. May take me a while.”

He hung up the radio mic, turned and leaned against the instrument panel where he could keep one eye on the swamp and one on CL and Bobby, held the boat on course with his forearm on the wheel. “I’m in no big hurry ‘cause I need y’all to spin me one hell of a good stow-ree about that spent shell. Tellin’ you now it better have a 15, maybe 20 foot gator and a witch and a toothless coon-ass pervert or two in it, ‘cause bein’ as we’re out here and it’s hotter’n hell an all? I’m stoppin’ at the marina for a ring-of-fire hot link, some of Louella’s fried shrimp bites and an Abita Amber just this side of ice. On the Parish dime. And I’ll need to write me up a nice report when I get back to justify burning a couple of hours and a bunch of Parish gas rescuing two born on the bayou kids who should know better than to blow a damn hole in the bottom of a boat.” He turned back, idled the boat up a little. “There’s water in the ice chest if you need some. Go easy, Carrie Louise. Ain’t nowhere for a girl to pee for a good forty minutes.”

***

An hour and a half later Sheriff Wylie dropped them at a makeshift dock on Bayou Black across the street from Bobby’s house. Bobby went home carrying the unloaded sawed off and his dad’s waders, Carrie Louise huffed off to her house next door carrying a greasy paper bag of leftover spicy shrimp bites.

Fifteen minutes passed before she banged on the screen door to Bobby’s kitchen. She’d been having an angry cry, most likely from a Momma Roche ass chewing. He toed the door open and she shoved a plate with a huge slice of peach pie and rapidly losing form in the heat whipped cream at him.

“Momma says she guesses thanks for saving me from bein’ gator bait. I told her it was snakes, but she said thanks anyway, even though a Houma girl dumb enough to blow a hole in a boat mighta been justifiably left behind. And to say I’m sorry about your dad’s boat and scaring you shitless with the shotgun and almost blowing your foot off.” She heaved a big sigh. “She’ll see that we make it right, when we can.”

Bobby could feel the sadness coming off her, along with leftover steam from how mad she’d gotten when he and the Sheriff laughed about her blowing a hole in the boat and not killing the snake, then Momma R piling on.

“I’m figurin’ I’ll tell Daddy I did it, CL. You tell Momma R not to worry.” He shrugged one shoulder, took the pie plate. “Dad’ll drop a couple M-80s to run the snakes off so I can fish the motor out pretty easy. And it won’t be near as bad a ‘Bobby you dumb ass’ sermon as telling him I let a girl beat me to the snake-and-gator gun.” He grinned, held the door open for her. “Come on. Pie this size needs two forks.”

“You sure? About the boat and all?”

“Yep.”

Sure sure?”

“Yep.”

“Like certain sure?”

“C’mon CL, do I look like I’m standin’ here air conditionin’ the back yard changin’ my mind?”

“No…” She stepped past him into the kitchen, opened his fridge. “So I guess that means you have a couple of new shots of Cool Whip or maybe some ice cream in here to go with that extra fork and this big ol’ piece of my momma’s blue-ribbon peach pie?”