Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Captain America"

...I penned the following belly-tickler a few months ago, upon returning from our family get-away to the Gulf Coast. Mainly intended for family & friends, it's since been deemed "Blog-worthy," and has been fielding requests. As a starving artist, I aim to please. Enjoy...
It had been over twenty years since I'd last experienced the pearly sands blanketing Florida's Siesta Key Beach.
I could still remember the ocean. Crystal-blue bath water, a pinch of salt teasing the humidity, and seaweed thinned down to no more than a lonely blade or two if searching.
Sand like sugar, soft and endless. A beach as wide as a football field is long. Plenty of room for volleyball, a frisbee toss, or an afternoon bar-b-que.
Twenty-plus years and I'd finally returned. I turned to my wife, a tear escaping down my cheek as together we watched our kids dash for the sea, and said, "I like what they've done to the place."
"Great," she mumbled. "But look at all these people."
I directed my attention away from The Gulf's gentle tide, and allowed myself a moment to absorb the not-so-perfect feature that my wife had quickly discovered. The people.
Some were young. Others old. Some robust, and others thin. A few were tan, but most were burnt. Thousands of them. People. Basting in the sun. Bobbing in the surf, or strolling along the tide's wake. Half-naked and glistening. Everywhere. At some point during my twenty year absence, Siesta Key Beach had been discovered.
...and unfortunately for me, wherever there's a scantily clad population numbering in the thousands, Captain America is sure to be somewhere in the vicinity.
I spotted him while returning with my younger son from a dip in the waves. I couldn't help but notice...really I couldn't.
He stretched to roughly five foot ten, probably one-eighty soaking wet...and at the time, he was.
He was of foreign descent, Italian or maybe Greek. His olive complexion was utterly hairless, except for what covered his scalp. Obviously an avid bodybuilder, his trimmed physique apparently permitted him the right to prominade the sands of Siesta with elbows bent outward, his biceps ever bulging, as if to say, "No really, I'm not clenching...they're just like that."
Despite the impressive ensamble, what caught my eye had nothing to do with his male pleasantries. It was instead the outlandish American-Flag-Loincloth plastered, or perhaps painted, over his mid-section.
Our very own Stars and never seen before.
One could only guess at the type of material needed for such pressurized abuse. Stretchy polyester? The thinnest form of cotton South Carolina's ever harvested? Something from Nasa perhaps? Whatever the cloth, I found myself thankful of it's powerful elasticity. For the slightest clinch of his sveinter muscle could've resulted in disaster.
And bumbling along on either side of the modern day super hero, his crime-fighting comrades, Bill and Ted. Because for them, this was no doubt one excellent adventure.
For a moment I found myself able to stifle the giggle which had risen up in my throat, as my son and I crossed their path en route to my sun-bathing wife and our awaiting towels.
That's when I unfortunately noticed the one star on his super suit which had been strategically placed directly over his "Italian Stallion."
One can only guess which U.S. state that star was supposed to represent, but their residents have my condolences.
The following events were the result of my discovery of that cursed, crotch-shielding star...
I laughed.
Captain America noticed.
Dragging my nine year old in tow, we stumbled out of harm's way.
I made the mistake of glancing over my shoulder.
Captain America and I gazed upon one another.
He then arched an eyebrow, threw me a scowl, planted his fists upon his hips, and flexed his pectorals at me, like two fleshy mounds of jello.
My grin pulled downward.
My son's jaw dropped. "Dad, did you see that?" he asked, raising an index finger.
"Don't point," I instructed. "Come on."
We made it back to our towels, my son staring down at his own chest, his thoughts running rampant.
"What's wrong?" my wife asked.
"Didn't you see that guy in that...suit?" I exclaimed. Then a thought occured to me. I leaned toward my wife's burnt earlobe. "Hey, why don't you go take a picture of that moron for my blog."
"What? I'm not sneaking up behind..." That's when she spotted him.
I watched as her eyes widened from behind her tinted lenses. Her nose twitched, as if smelling a peculiar scent in the air. Then before I had a chance to come to my senses and rescind my earlier request, she snatched up her Cannon Rebel, slung it over her shoulder, and padded across the sand. The clever wolverine tracking it's prey.
She disappeared in the ever-moving mass of glistening bodies patrolling the coastline. I shook my head, disgruntled.
A few minutes passed. My irritation grew. My son, still for whatever reason, concentrating on his upper torso, finally turned to me and asked, "Dad, why can't I make my boobs wiggle like that?"
"Because they're not big enough yet," I mumbled.
From out of the horde of beachcombers, my wife suddenly appeared, plopping down at my side, a mischevious smirk upon her face.
"Got you a good shot," she proudly announced. "I got pretty close."
"Hmmph," I grunted. "I bet you did."
"So Dad, can you do that?" my son persisted.
"Would you not worry about it please?" I huffed.
"Worry about what?" my wife asked.
"That guy," my son explained, again pointing. "You know, the one with the flag on his butt. He wiggled his boobs at Dad."
"He did what?" my wife yelped.
I released a sigh.
A minute or two of precious silence was shared between the three of us, thoughts wandering in three different directions, before my wife finally asked, "So...are you sure one picture's gonna be enough?"

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Chance Encounter

...a local novelist, well known for his collection of murder mysteries based around several towns in the area, made an appearance/book signing at Barnes & Noble a short time ago.

While I've never met the man personally, I've made a point to keep tabs on whatever project he hammers out, for a couple of reasons. Like him, my first novel also clings to local roots. And while he's in the past worked with a well known University Press out of the Buckeye State, he's also delt with the same publisher, The Wooster Book Company, which my manuscript, "Broken," is currently being run through the editing gamut. And so for obvious reasons...I'm curious, I read, I learn.

Having already scheduled a prior engagement, I wasn't able to attend the book signing. Funny thing though...what's that quote? "There are no coincidences."

Later that evening, while dining with my family and the in-laws at a local steakhouse, I lean back, frosty brew in hand, glance over my shoulder, and as fate would have it, there he sits, washing down a final bite of sirloin with what appeared to be a martini...but I didn't see an olive, so perhaps not.

Acting far from cool, my first reaction was to gawk. My second, was to jump out of my seat and slide across the booth from him while blubbering/stumbling/sputtering through an awkward speech of fanfair and personal inspiration.

As I rose from my seat however, I thankfully hesitated, and took a breath. Only then did I realize that he wasn't alone. Sitting across from him was a lady...someone he obviously held near and dear to his heart. My deep breath became two. I remained where I was. Even slouched a bit toward our tabletop. For in the next few minutes I learned more from this author by watching him, than I could've ever gained by approaching his booth and making a fool of myself.

An older gentleman, probably in his early sixties if I'd have to guess, he stood no taller than five foot ten, and over the years had grown nearly as wide as he was tall. The majority of his thinning silver hair had moved from atop his head, to below his chin, reminding me of a splitting image of Uncle Jesse from "The Dukes of Hazzard."

Despite his success as an accomplished writer, the expression on his face whispered of a man far more comfortable spending his days away from the public eye. A simple nod to their waitress when asked if their order was cooked to their likeness. A quiet, "Thank you," with the presentation of their bill. A timid demeanor. A man comfortable in his skin.

...but that wasn't what drew my attention.

The lady sitting opposite him in the booth was easily twenty years younger. Auburn hair pulled up into a tight bun. A body having spent it's share of time on a treadmill, clothed in a beige pant-suit. A large diamond wrapped around her finger. A polished manicure the color of violets.

At first glance I thought, "Agent." A moment later, his pudgy fingers slid across the table and entwined with hers. As the waitress removed their empty plates, both hands came to rest on the tabletop, hands clasped.

As I watched, not being nosy or in any way judgemental, but curious, as fellow writers can sometimes be, the lady began whispering across the table as the author listened, his gaze intense.

A question I've always wondered, do successful writers see the world differently than the rest of us? When we look into the sky and see a hawk soaring over a wooded thicket, perhaps circling it's prey, an oblivious field mouse, or a floppy-eared bunny, does Neil Gaiman glance up and interpret the same bird from an entirely different perspective?

In earlier years, the lady sitting across the table from the author no doubt boasted of an eye color with a striking blue tint, for a shade of it remained. They'd faded over time however, and were now pale. Silver, like a gathering mist. And across from her, the aging writer appeared lost while in her company. Completely oblivious to the constant ting and scrape of silverware and plates, or the monotone drawl of restaurant chatter, he remained riveted on her every word. His eyes, outlined in crow's feet, seemed lost in the pale mist, as if searching, making sure with fluttering heart, that somewhere in there he'd find a picture of himself, and know for certain that he was held with the same high regard as he so obviously had placed her.

I never did meet the author who's work helped to inspire my first manuscript, a YA drama with local flair. I didn't feel it proper to intrude. Shortly after our food arrived, the couple quietly rose from their booth and left, hand in hand. He never so much as offered me a glance.

Thinking back, without so much as a word being shared, plenty was learned from that evening. A message. Silent advice from an acknowledged peer, without ever knowing he gave it.

Focus on what's important. As seen through the eyes of a writer. And again...there are no coincidences.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Heist

...a friend of the family, currently employed at a retail store located somewhere within the mass confusion of a local outlet mall, fell victim to an odd form of thievery the other day.

...working behind the counter while her fellow associate stocked the storeroom, she found herself in the company of four hooded thugs. Aggressive like teenagers fresh off a "21 Jump Street" reunion tour, and armed with Hefty bags draped over each arm, they ordered our friend to remain where she was, hands held high, speaking in fluid spanish, as the crime enfolded.

...while one of the conspirators kept an eye on our friend, another manning the front door, the other two attacked the designer clothing, bloating each bag with the newest and hottest in name brand attire.

...they worked fast, in and out in less than five minutes. Oddly enough, they never approached the cash register. Never showed any signs of violence toward our friend behind the counter. It was the clothing they were after. And following several tense moments, it was the clothing they got.

...they left the store together. A foursome. Hooded. Each lugging a full garbage bag over their shoulder. Out the front door and into the populated chaos of an outlet mall, a place far too busy at all hours of the day for someone like, for instance, to ever pay a visit.

...and they got away.

...the outlet mall, less than a decade old, and home to more than 75 stores, including Nike and The Gap, has no security cameras posted anywhere on the premises. No cameras in the stores. Only a lone rent-a-cop, no doubt resting his haunches in front of the Dunkin Donuts at the time, was the only means of justice on site during the heist.

...when the store's manager arrived on the scene, he asked our shaken friend, "Were they armed?"

"I didn't ask."

"So, you never saw a gun?"

"I didn't really want to look for one at the time."

"And you didn't call 9-1-1?"

"Do you really think they would've let me?"

"You just stood there?"

"And lived to talk about it..."

...our friend was "written up" for not attempting to stop the burglary, despite the fact that no one was hurt, and the money in the cash register was never touched. An estimated $3000 in clothing was stolen however...a burden far too heavy for a clothing store manager to comprehend.

...throwing caution to the wind, our friend, upon receiving her demerit paper responded with, "I guess next time I'll take my top off and distract 'em while dialing the cops. Would that make you happy?"

Friday, March 5, 2010

A writer's Tic

...I find it interesting how an abundance of writers, whether a novice, or an esteemed shelf monger in the book aisle at the local Wal-Mart, refuse to allow anyone to read their work until it's deemed "ready" by its creator.

Almost as if the manuscript were a top-secret government project, held strictly in confidence by the ten fingers used for selecting the appropriate keys necessary for the story's completion.

Many writers swear by this practice. Allowing a fresh set of eyes to discover what's been causing all of those late nights in front of the computer screen may very well inflict doom upon the entire project. If that's the case, by all means, stick to your guns.

Not so long ago, I felt the same way. Like many artists who toss a sheet over their canvass each and every evening until it's memorable unveiling, I'd go so far as to not allow anyone in the vicinity of my computer files without my presence hovering nearby.

Then something happened, in the form of, "Rejections, Rejections, Rejections."

I started asking the all-important question, "What am I doing wrong?"

Problem was, since I never allowed anyone to read my work, or worse yet, offer suggestions or helpful comments, I couldn't find the answers I was looking for.

And so a decision was made.

Somewhere around the time of my manuscript's third draft, I sat my wife down in front of the computer and simply said, "Read this, and tell me what you think."

Granted, she was fearful. Her fingers twitched. She feigned losing a contact lens. Even tried the headache scam. In time however, she came around, and started reading. Better yet, when she finally realized her health was no longer in jeopardy, she even offered an opinion or two.

And I listened.

Then I had another thought. My story, titled "Broken," is a first person narrative through the eyes of a ten year old boy whose family has fallen on hard times. I'd been burning the mid-night oil, attempting to once again view the world as a ten year old boy.

I haven't been ten years old in quite some time. My son however, had only recently matured past that age. And so, BoyWonder found himself plopped in front of my computer one evening, reading away at Pop's Not-So-Secret Project.

I wanted to know if my ten year old voice sounded anything like a...well, ten year old voice. I told him to speak his mind, and prepared for the worst.

He spoke. I listened. "Broken" improved.

Along the way, I invited several others to read. A semi-retired school teacher. A college student from the local University majoring in English. I even grew "ballsy" enough to post a segment or two on this very blog. (There still available for anyone itching with curiosity:)

And finally, I allowed someone formerly associated with Simon & Schuster to have a look-see at "Broken."

His eventual response..."This could work."

I'm no longer fearful of sharing my work while still "under construction." For me, taking the thoughts and comments of others has elevated my projects from what I've determined to be lousy, to what my son boldly declared by simply stating, "It doesn't suck, Dad." advice a writer could ever hope for:)