Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Reason to Feel Thankful :)

...a pair of movie scenes come to mind as I spare a moment to reflect on this national day of giving thanks. Two classics I enjoyed in my younger days, not realizing then how they'd couple to create my own personal drama played out on the eve of this holiday season...

In 1991 Keanu Reeves teamed up with the late Patrick Swayze in a movie called, "Point Break," where Ohio State graduate and FBI Agent, Johnny Utah, travels the Cali Coast in pursuit of Bodhi, (Swayze) and his gang of surfing bank robbers. They follow the high tide, riding the sharpest waves and leaving a trail of dirty cash in their wake.

Following a series of breathtaking scenarios and stunt-ridden chase scenes, Reeves manages to capture Swayze on an obscure Australian shore line, under a curtain of steady rainfall, an enormous Pacific wave gathering force in the background. Johnny has Bodhi handcuffed to his own wrist, the two of them watching the climatic event of the "Thirty Year Storm" wreaking utter havoc to the swirling waters. Utah's pursuit of Bodhi had lasted nearly a year, spanning the globe. He got his man, but was too exhausted to celebrate.

Inexplicably, Bodhi somehow manages to talk Utah into setting him free in order to catch one last wave...the largest point break ever laid eyes upon. The Aussie stronghold catch up to Johnny Utah, confused and screaming in protest while Bodhi, muscling his board, fights the turbulent currents en route to the gathering monster.

"We'll get him when he comes back in," an Australian cop says.

Johnny Utah watches Bodhi meet the wave, a surfer rising to ridiculous heights, then turns his back on the chase. "He's not coming back," he says, reaching for his FBI badge. Without looking, he flings the glistening badge into the water as the final credits begin crawling up the screen...

In 1994, Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman joined forces to create "The Shawshank Redemption," arguably one of the greatest movies ever made.

The scene I recalled this week, was when Andy Dufresne, (Robbins) under the clapping of a mid-night thunderstorm, burrows out of prison by way of a sewer pipe, Freeman's voice narrating in the background... "Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can't even imagine, or maybe I just don't want to. Five hundred yards...that's the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile..."

Andy Dufresne, wrongfully accused of killing his wife, had spent the last nineteen years in the Shawshank Correctional Facility. Before departing, he'd leaned into Morgan's ear the day before in the yard, and mumbled, "Time to get busy living, or get busy dying."

Under a steady downpour, the tumultuous skies denying any hint of moonlight, Andy Dufresne drops from a pipe full of feces, to a small creek, and freedom...the prison looming like a sleeping giant in the background. He rises to his feet, lifts his arms to the skies above, and breathes free air for the first time in nearly two decades...

...a few weeks ago I received a phone call. As it turns out, a smaller manufacturing company in the area, ironically one that I've driven past every day along my route to the monster conglomerate that's employed me for the past decade, has been in search of a quality control inspector...someone with big business experience, yet with an urge to scale escape big business politics. A person in search of less suits, while experiencing a bit more gratitude along the way. In their eyes at least...someone like me.

From my desk, I accepted the offer quietly, expressed my thanks, and hung up the phone. My wife at my side, she asked, "You got it?"

"I got it."

"The hours?"

"I'll be home every night."

"And the pay?"

I hesitated, released a breath, then, "It's good." resignation was met with negative response from my employer, a monstrous place with gated entrances. A place resembling Shawshank. A place where we're known by our badge number, and not much more. Where I've spent countless hours per week, receiving little gratitude in return, while quenching every spare minute of my time I once used for my family, for coaching, and for writing.

And yesterday, my last day on the job, I thought of Johnny Utah, tossing his badge into the salty waters, turning his back on an unforgiving career. I reached for my I.D badge, yanked it from my waist, stepped into the department office, and like a smallish frisbee, tossed my plastic badge onto my superior's desk. Then I turned and left, refusing to look back.

Minutes later I left through the barred gates under an obscene hour, and was met by steady rainfall.

...and I thought of Andy Dufresne, exiting that sewer pipe, dropping to a rocky creek freedom.

I raised my face to the sky and released a breath, the air tasting a bit cleaner than the day before.

The new job will allow for ample time in the evening...time to gather around the dinner table with my kids...time to once again coach my youth ball teams...and time to write.

As "South of Charm" enters the galley, a three-headed monster of story ideas have been disturbing my late-night solitude...yearning for attention...demanding to be scribed. And now I'll have time.

Thanksgiving 2010...indeed a day to give thanks :)


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Buckeye Book Fair 2010 overcast veil of gray snuffed out what little daylight remained. Despite ample parking, I was forced to trek upon cracked pavement outlining the neighboring building, the afternoon crowd still in flux.

I snuck through the side entrance, knowing the way by heart, and made haste to the gathered assemblage. More than a hundred writers, their smiles now strained following an afternoon of slinging their names across published works and speaking to readers by the thousands. After a day spent huddled over a desk, toughing out a mandatory six hour foster care class, I could relate.

It doesn't take long to lose one's sense of time while in their own environment...The Buckeye Book Fair, yearly ranked as one of the top literary events in the country.

The conversation with Karen Kingsbury, huddled behind a colorful display of past achievements, was inspiring. Terry Pluto has always been a personal favorite. A local sports writer turned novelist, each story christened with athletic locale. I paused before a breathtaking piece from artist, Will Hillenbrand, and shook hands with Cleveland born Neil Zurcher. From where I stood, Regina Brett's, "God Never Blinks," was an apparent fan favorite, her line having stretched around the corner and out of sight. And as every year, children's writer Dandi Mackall infected me with a playful grin reminiscent of the writer's voice she carries.

I was reading the back cover blurb to the latest vampire craze, when a tap on my shoulder stole my attention. "I thought all writers were sitting behind the tables today?"

A weary smile formed. "Hello David," I greeted my editor. "Out trolling for new students?"

"Just enjoying a day with friends." He studied my expression, then, "Long day?"

I nodded. "Classes. And yes, I should be signing today, not reading."

"Once again the bride's maid...still not the bride." His gaze hardened. Steely blue eyes squinting from behind a set of crow's feet. "Patience El. Your time draws near, I promise."

I looked at the tiled floor at our feet, our shadows forming a lengthened embrace. "Seems like it'll never happen," I said. "It's like...edit this, rewrite running in place and getting nowhere fast."

"All these brats sitting behind these tables around us," David turned, waved an arm as if warding off a mosquito, "They start on their next project while edits stumble on."

"Yeah well, I've got that dayjob to deal with...but there's a little something else on the plate I've been thinking about. Another project."

"In the mood to share?" David asked.

"Nope. You've got work to do. Not sure why you're even standing here right now," I countered.

David's shoulders rose and fell with each chuckle. "Always the slave driver. 'South of Charm' will indeed happen. Final edits are rolling like a shapely stone downhill, with the final read to follow, then off to the galley."

"And how long will that be?"


"Aww come on!"

"See that empty space over there?" David directed my gaze toward a far corner of the room, a lonesome chair hiding under the table, an eight foot section of unattended space.

"What about it?" I asked.

"Next year," David said. A second pat on my shoulder. "Next year."

"Okay," I nodded.

As David turned, waving me a farewell, I mumbled, "Probably won't sell a book all day...sit behind a stack of covers, embarrassed and blushing."

"Ha!" David coughed over his shoulder. "Even the rube who failed to show up today ended up selling three books! I think you'll do fine!"

I watched his broken stride as he ambled for the exit, my grin widening. year.

Buckeye Book Fair 2011. "South of Charm" ...better late than never:)

Thanks for reading,

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Conversation Worth Noting

...when searching for inspiration, look no further than through the eyes of our youth. You'd be amazed at what lies inside...

She's been staying with us since last winter's thaw. Not a permanent placement, and not "The Girl" I've spoken of previously. Just a troubled nine year old yearning for stability while her mother "rights the ship."

Earlier in the week I found myself driving her into town for a state mandated psychology appointment. Professional probing...sometimes necessary, other times, well...

This young lady is not known for speaking of the events which led to her displacement, therefore, we don't ask. If she feels like talking however, we listen.

As we made the twenty minute trek into town that day, she felt like sharing. And I listened...

"Is this a new doctor?" she asked from the backseat, her monotone barely registering more than a whisper.

I turned down the volume on the radio. "Yes, Honey. You haven't met this lady yet. But she's nice."

"What should I tell her?"

"Well, if I were you, I'd answer all of her questions honestly. She's just trying to help."

She was quiet for a bit, then, "Should I tell her about my imaginary friend?"

I considered our destination, then answered, "That would be fine."

Her reflection through the rear-view mirror was that of a downcast soul. Ebony tangles forming a curtain of hair over her eyes. She was faced forward, her gaze angled toward the floor. Thin fingers clasped together and resting upon her lap as if in prayer.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

She offered me a quick glance. Up, then back down, like the blink of an eyelid. "Did you have an imaginary friend when you were little?"

"I sure did."

"What was his name?"

"His name was Sam."

Her hands relaxed. "Did he ever talk to you?"

"Hmm...I guess so. That was a long time ago, Honey."

"But, what I mean is...could you hear him when he talked?"

I felt myself backpedaling into dark ground. "Can you hear your friend when she talks to you?"

"All the time. She came with me when I moved in with you guys."

"Oh. Well okay." I briefed her gaze in the mirror. There and gone. "You know, you should probably tell the doctor about this...I mean, if you feel like it."

I was reaching for the volume on the radio when her next comment froze my arm in mid-stretch. "I think that dog in your basement needs fed. He looks hungry."

"Uh...what dog?"

"The black one. The one with the red eyes."

"There's a black dog in the basement?"

"He followed me from home too. He sits next to the fireplace when I'm watching T.V."

"We're almost there, Honey. Just a few more minutes."

"The white dog was already here when I came though."

My grip tightened on the steering wheel. "White dog?"

"The one from the woods." From the backseat, the girl looked out the window, studied the passing scenery in the distance, a grove of maples, their branches skeletal from the late season. "He follows us all the time."

I didn't want to ask, but couldn't help it. "This white dog...what's he look like?

Through a veil of dark curls I watched her eyes squint, collecting her thoughts. Then, "He looks more like a wolf than a dog. White and fluffy. But kinda dirty, like he might need a bath. And his eyes are cool. Kind of brownish-goldish. I bet they can glow in the dark."

I swerved into the parking lot, was rescued by the first open space I spied, and jammed the car into park, my chest heaving, moist hands sliding off the steering wheel.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Let's head inside."

...before my wife and I were blessed with our first child, we owned two dogs. One was a female Shepherd mix, beige and white, a rowdy shrew that fought off father time for sixteen years before finally passing away this past Spring.

The other one was a male. Dingy white, and shaped like a polar bear. He was a hybrid-wolf, his father a pure Timber. We called him Dutch. During the winter months his coat would thicken and fluff outward for the coldest of days. At the age of eight, he broke lose from his outdoor pen one bitter January night, and ran off. At some point during his journey, he was tempted by the sweet lure of anti-freeze from an open garage. We recovered him several days into our search, but the poison had spread. Dutch was put to sleep roughly a week later. To this day my wife struggles with our loss.

I stayed in the waiting room during the appointment, allowing the child some privacy with her doctor. The ride home was spent in silence, the youngster no longer willing to share.

Imaginary friends and their dogs...some black, others a bit more familiar. What I'd give for a moment of vision through this girl's eyes. Just a moment...