Friday, September 25, 2009

Why I'm a Bad Blogger ...

1. I'm taking a mental writing break for a week or two ... I just finished a beastly revision, and I'm trying to figure out what's next, so I figured I'd give myself a bit of time to think.
2. My blogging energies are being poured into this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Capacity, By Erica Orloff

I used to believe in God. We weren’t on a first-name basis, so perhaps, to be fair, I should say I was a healthy agnostic.

But Michael O’Malley believed. Every Sunday, you could find him in a wooden pew, except when he was at the firehouse. And he held tight to Luke 12:7. I had to look it up.

And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows.

For the sake of journalistic integrity, I should tell you that I knew Mike enough to quote his favorite Bible passage. But not so much that he reached out to me at the end. But for a while, I was his confessor and friend.

After 9/11, I was assigned to his firehouse. I followed the remaining firefighters around for six months. I went to seven funerals. I talked to seven widows. I watched the firefighters for signs that they were cracking. I did it to tell their story.

I wrote six articles on the firehouse. And in all my interviews, Mike was the one I worried about. You write about crime and pain and death for long enough, and you see it in someone’s eyes.

“I had pulled out a woman. On my back. And when I went to go back in . . . all that was left was ash. Like Vesuvius.”

That was another thing I learned about Mike. Luke 12:7 . . . and the History Channel.

About a year and a half later, I heard he had taken medical leave. So much crap in his lungs that when he went to sleep at night, he felt like he was drowning.

We had lunch, grabbing gyros at a place down in the Village, drinking Savatiano out of jelly jar glasses.

“My wife left me,” he said softly.

I shook my head. “Sorry, Man.”

“Took Gracie with her. Said I wasn’t the man she married.” He coughed and winced.

“Maybe counseling . . .” I offered it feebly.

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I’m not the man she married. I’ll never be him again.”

After two more glasses of Savatiano, we shook hands. I didn’t expect to see him again.

My life got busy. I left the Times and got a job writing for a magazine. I got a book deal on the side. Not enough to live on, but enough that I could catch up in life, put something aside. I forgot about Mike most days.

Then, on the anniversary, about three years ago, I heard from him.

“Want to meet at the Greek place?” he asked. I could hear something in his voice. Elusive. Happy.

Over lunch he told me he started a charity. He had a buddy who pulled two kids’ bodies from an apartment fire in Harlem. And he had this idea. Smoke alarms for the poor.

“I heard of that,” I said. “Saw something . . . CNN maybe. That’s you?”

He nodded proudly.

We drank Athiri this time and skipped the gyros. I wished him well. He smiled and reminded me of Luke 12:7. “He wouldn’t let me fall.”


“God. He knew I was reaching my limit. My capacity. Couldn’t take much more. God gave me the idea. Gave me something to live for.”

Mike’s charity grew. I mean, took off. Donations poured in. Some movie star gave him a hundred grand. It spread to other cities all across the United States. He got invited to the White House.

And an investment banker said he could take all the charity’s money and double it. Triple it even. Seemed like a smart move.

And then . . . poof.

“Gone up like paper in a flame,” he told me. No gyros or Greek wine this time. Boilermakers in a gritty place near Clinton.

“I’m so sorry, Mike,” I whispered.

“Kids will die.”

“But that’s not your fault.”

“But whose fault is it? The investment guy? He was a liar. The banks that let these guys do this? The SEC? Who? Whose fault? When 9/11 happened . . . it was someone’s fault. It has to have a fault.”

When we shook hands this time, it was me . . . I quoted Luke.

“God’s for suckers,” he said.

The picture in the Times, one of my old colleagues said, was the last known photograph of Mike. Shortly after a photographer from the Times took it, Mike was hauled off in handcuffs. He screamed the whole way to the station house. “Whose fault?”

He hung himself in a holding cell.

I went to his funeral.

And now . . . every Sunday, when I can, I drop in a church near my apartment. I say a prayer for Mike’s soul. Not because I believe in God. But . . . because no matter what Mike said, I don’t think Mike really thought God was for suckers. And maybe someone has to remind God of sparrows.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Ivan's Beanstalk, by Jon VanZile

Ivan leaned forward with his knuckles on the glass and looked down to the street. The dirty crowd was still down there, but he couldn't hear them shouting through the soundproof windows.

The only sound in his office was from the two phones ringing incessantly on his desk.

One was calling in, but he had no intention of answering it. He knew Jenny wouldn't give up, but what did that matter now? Let it go to voice mail.

The second phone was calling out, and Ivan planned to let that one ring until he reached Zurich.

On the desk next to the phones, a column of numbers lit up his computer screen. The bottom one—$485,284,982—was the one that concerned him.

Ivan glanced away from the window, to one of the muted TVs. Even he could not stop the thrill of anxiety that tightened his jaw. Every business day of Ivan's life, the ticker had scrolled against the bottom of the screen, tallying up the winners and losers.

Not today. At 10:18 a.m., the Big Board had gone silent.

Shortly afterward, Ivan had watched from his window as the first dazed brokers appeared in the street. They emerged from their buildings slowly, blinking in the strange, downtown sunlight like mummies shaken from their sarcophagi.

The first protestors showed up half an hour later. The crowd had started with a single guy in a dirty jacket. He was some kind of Michael Moore–wannabe who thought it was funny to name names, and he named Ivan Thor. Pretty soon, a crowd gathered as he thundered away, pointing at Ivan's penthouse office floating above the street: "HE did this! Do you think Ivan Thor is suffering today?! Do you think HE'LL be turned from his home?! That HIS kids will go hungry?!"

The one guy turned into twenty, then fifty, then suddenly it was thousands, and the little fish that had been circling Ivan for years grew into a school of piranha.

He felt it in his feet when they locked the building down. The steel crash doors thudded into place over the big ground-floor windows, and Ivan was sealed up in his iron beanstalk. Unless someone had a tank or an RPG, he had nothing to worry about. So he watched that number on his computer screen and waited, waited, waited for Dieter to pick up the phone.


Ivan whirled away from the window, where they were now burning cars and causing random property damage. He wasn't impressed—and he made a mental note to sell shares in his insurance holdings the second they opened up the exchange again.

"Dieter," Ivan said. "Thor here."

"Mr. Thor," came Dieter's smooth voice, the accent miraculously disappearing. "You are safe?"

"I need to make a transfer."

"Of course," Dieter said. "Hold while I connect to the voice authentication please."

Ivan heard several clicks on the line, and then was surprised by some kind of vibrating percussion that traveled up through the spine of the building. He turned back to the window and looked down again, but all he could see was a puff of smoke at the base of the building. Maybe one of the ignorant fuckers down there actually did have an RPG, and he made a mental note to buy a piece of the firearms industry. There would be serious money to be made there soon enough.

"You there?" Ivan said with growing impatience.

"Yes, sir," Dieter said. "Please state your name, speaking clearly and slowly."

"You know my fucking name!" Ivan snapped.

An automated female voice came over the phone line: "Authentication failed."

"I'm sorry, sir," Dieter said. "But—"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I got it." Ivan waited for the machine to reset. "I-van Thor."

"Authentication approved," the female voice said.

"Please state your account number," Dieter said.

Ivan was momentarily distracted by an unusual sound. It was a disembodied howling, like a tornado had been trapped in the elevator shaft. He considered calling for his helicopter—which he had nicknamed Golden Parachute as a joke—but figured he'd better attend to business first. Always business first.

He began to recite his thirteen-digit account number, but stopped halfway through. The howling in the building was sifting itself into voices now. Ivan looked to the street level. The puff of smoke around the base of the skyscraper had blown away, and in its place, he saw people scrambling into the building.

Ivan began talking again, slowly and distinctly carving out each number from his throat. When he was done, the female robovoice said, "Please wait for authentication."

As he waited, Ivan listened to the growing howling. The elevators had been locked down earlier, so they must be in the stairwell. For one heartbeat—just one split second—Ivan felt a tendril of fear curl around his guts and squeeze him. Then he pushed it away and focused.

"Authentication approved," the voice said.

"Sir?" Dieter said. "I'm watching the news now. Is that your building?"

"Yes," snapped Ivan. "Now, I want to transfer—"

"Excuse me," Dieter said, "But are you entirely sure you're safe, sir? If you'd like to hang up and call your police perhaps, you can call me back—"

"No!" barked Ivan. "Listen carefully, I'm authorizing a transfer for four hundred eighty-five million two hundred eighty-four thousand nine hundred eighty two dollars from Chase account seven zero zero six five three four two seven into my personal account there."

"Of course, sir," Dieter said smoothly. "But—"

"Why hasn't it happened yet?" Ivan was staring hard at the number on his computer screen. It was unchanged.

"Please hold for a moment," Dieter said.

There was the sound of wood and glass breaking from somewhere on his floor, down the hushed halls of plush carpet. Ivan glanced up at his door and an unbidden memory from last week hopped into his mind: the Secretary of the United States Treasury coming in, smiling and holding a single sheet of paper announcing that Ivan Thor's brokerage was entitled to almost half a billion dollars in rescue money from the federal TARP program.

"That ought to get you back on your feet, huh, old boy?" the Secretary said.

Indeed it would.

Ivan waited, consciously keeping his breathing steady. The other phone was still ringing, and he wished Jenny would get the point and vanish.

Finally, Dieter's voice came back on the line, crackling with distance. "Confirmed, sir, now please—"

Ivan saw the number on his computer flash to zero point zero zero just at the moment his thick office door shattered and the glass crinkled to the ground. Bodies were surging in his outer office, faces pulled into grimaces and shouts. He couldn't tell one from another, but noticed with mild surprise that at least one was wearing a blue uniform.

So that's how it was going to be.

Ivan leaned forward on his desk, facing the mob, and sneered: "Too late. I win."

That's when he saw the nooses.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What Everybody Knows, by E. Flanigan

When I was a kid, my 5th grade teacher tacked a poster on the wall right next to my desk. I looked up at it probably fifty times a day.

It had a picture of lemons disappearing into a meat grinder and a glass of bright yellow lemonade on the other end. That one that says, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" What bullshit.

Once I grew up and got my head out of my ass, I realized some people never leave the meat grinder. The poster was just propaganda.

I'm sick of getting chewed up and spit out, and yesterday was the day I finally woke up. Randy says I'm acting like an idiot, but today I'm free and Randy's still pushing a broom around. So who's the stupid one?

The day started off normal, and now that I think about it, it's crazy how Tuesday night I went to bed and everything was the same and Wednesday night everything was different. See, my whole life just changed, SNAP.

It's like this lady on TV who got her scalp ripped off when her hair got caught in an industrial mixer. "Degloving" is what they call it. Do you think that lady would've believed you if you told her she'd be going to bed with no scalp that night? That's how life is sometimes. It's just like, SNAP.

I don't know what was so special about Wednesday, but the universe was definitely telling me to wake up. For one thing, it was 9/9/09, which is crazy. That only happens like every hundred years or something. And nine is my lucky number, so there's that.

Plus it was Wednesday, as I said, and Randy was telling me Wednesdays have the most suicides and all the scientists are trying to figure out why. And I was like, "Gee, could it be job stress?" Bingo, we have a winner.

Then at lunch I was reading Spin with Suzanne in the break room and I saw a quote by Kanye West: "Everything that Twitter offers I need less of."

And I was blown away, because I was just saying that last week. The whole modern world is so screwed, because it's all sound-bites and status updates and nobody really getting together. I was trying to explain this whole thing to Suzanne, but she had to clock back in and it was so ironic it wasn't even funny.

Conversations like that, important ones where two people are really connecting, are limited by a time clock. But Facebook is 24-7. Omegle is 24-7. Time is an artificial construct. Do you really think Plato or Thoreau were worried about keeping their breaks to fifteen minutes? Get real.

When Paul got on my back about refilling the soap dispensers, it was all I could do to keep my shit. The guy has balls, because he wasn't doing anything at the time but breathing down my neck. But whatever — I did it.

Needless to say, Randy was pissing me off because he kept imitating me. "Yes, Paul. Sorry, Paul." And it's like, grow up and wake up.

"When you can't figure out who the douche-bag is, it's probably you, Randy." He's so stupid he doesn't really deserve a wake-up call, but he got one anyway. Free of charge.

Then I was cleaning the front windows and there was this hubbub outside the bank. So I walked down and saw this guy with a pile of ropes and a sign, "Nooses on sale." And I knew exactly what he meant. Because there's a lot of assholes who should give it up and hang themselves, starting with bankers and stockbrokers.

When I got back in the store, Paul started in on me about leaving without permission, and it was obvious he just doesn't get it. For one thing, I was only gone for like two minutes. But he's so busy trying to convince himself he's accomplishing something besides being a prick for a living, he misses the big picture.

Everybody was watching me get yelled at, even the customers, and I don't know if it was because it was Wednesday or what, but that's when I left. I just set my apron on the counter and walked out the door.

On my way to the bus stop I passed the bank, and I made it a point to shake the noose guy's hand and tell him, "Thanks for doing this, man. That shit made my day."

I've been thinking about it, and I already know what I'm going to say to Paul when I go pick up my final check tomorrow. I'll just look him in the eye and say: "Everybody gets it but you, Paul. Everybody knows."

SNAP. Wake-up call.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Don't It Make You Want to Go Home? by Jude Hardin

Virgil Lamb walked briskly through Pewee Park with his hands in his coat pockets, making his way toward Mike Musselman’s house over on Walnut. Virgil had known Mike since the days they’d attended grammar school together, sixty-some years ago. Mike would help him. Mike would know what to do.

Virgil stopped where he and his friend had built a fort high in the branches, long before the area had been designated a nature preserve. No remnants of the treehouse remained--or even the tree, for that matter, not even a stump--but Virgil knew the site. He knew it like the back of his liver-spotted hand. He gazed toward the sky for a few seconds and traveled to another time, to the summer he turned eleven. He and Mike walked along a dirt road, picking up rocks and seeing who could hurl them the furthest, talking about how they might scrounge a few pennies to split a Coca-Cola at Gunther’s Sunoco. Then, out of the blue, Mike said, “Let’s tear down that old tobacco barn and build ourselves a fort.”

“You can’t just go tearing down people’s barns,” Virgil said. “Tends to put them in a bad mood.”

“The Schweinhardts done lost their land, so the way I see it that barn ain’t nobody’s. Free barn.”

“It’s the bank’s.”

“You think the bank cares? Look at it. Roof’s half gone, wood’s all weathered and warped, foundation’s probably crawling with termites. Hell, we’d be doing them a favor.”

“I don’t know about that.”

But Virgil did know about one thing. He knew that once Mike Musselman had his mind set on doing something there was no stopping him. He knew that the next day they would come back with sledgehammers and start taking the place apart board-by-board. What he didn’t know about, what his nine-year-old brain couldn’t possibly have predicted, were the nightmares that would follow, the horrifying visions that would poison his sleep for years to come.

It started that same night, before they ever pulled and straightened the first rusty nail. In his dream, Virgil sat on a bench outside the Pewee Valley Mortgage and Trust Company, chewing on a stick of licorice, waiting for his father to take care of some business inside. A man on the corner opposite the bank stood beside a big hand-painted sign that said NOOSES ON SALE. Not for sale, but on sale, as if you needed to hurry on over to get one cheap. Naturally curious, Virgil crossed the intersection and told the man howdy.

There were several lengths of rope lying on the ground, each with a hangman’s knot on one end. Virgil counted the loops on a couple of the knots and, sure enough, there were thirteen just as he’d always heard.

“What are the ropes for, mister?”

“They’re for ugly redhead retards who jaywalk.”

“I ain’t no retard. I can read and write and cipher and everything. And it ain’t no crime to have red hair. My momma says--”

“But jaywalking is a crime. You ain’t heard the news? It’s a hanging offense now.”

“You’re funny, mister.”

Virgil’s father appeared then, seeming to be in a foul humor, the way he got when he drank too much whiskey the night before.

He grabbed Virgil by the arm. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Nothing, Papa. Just talking to the noose salesman here.”

“I’ll take one of those,” Papa said to the man.

“Buy one, get one half-price. While they last.”

“I’ll only be needing the one.”

Papa handed the man some money and picked out a length of rope, checking the knot to make sure it functioned properly.

“Why’d you buy that noose?” Virgil asked on the ride home, but his father didn’t answer.

And they didn’t go home.

Papa steered the truck through the open gate of the old Schweinhardt place and parked beside the tobacco barn. He got out, grabbed the rope with one hand and Virgil’s hair with the other and pulled Virgil shouting and screaming to the inside of the barn. Next thing Virgil knew he was standing on a rickety stool with his hands tied with baling wire, the loose end of the rope secured to a roof beam and the business end to his neck. It was hot in the barn, probably over a hundred degrees, and the noose was tight and the hemp coarse and he could feel it burning into his sweaty skin. He teetered on the stool, knowing a loss of balance meant instant death.

“Why are you doing this, Papa?”

“You can’t just go tearing down people’s barns. Tends to put them in a bad mood. Plus, like the man said, jaywalking’s a hanging offense these days. Nothing I can do about that.”

“Please, Papa. I’ll be good. I promise.”

“You should have thought of that before. Too late now.”

A wasp flew overhead. Virgil followed it to its nest with his eyes.

“May as well get rid of them damn things while I’m at it,” Papa said. He picked up a can of gasoline, screwed the lid off, sprinkled some in the straw around the stool and then doused Virgil’s britches with the rest.

He lit a match.

Now Virgil had a choice. He could jump off the stool and hang himself, or he could stand there and burn. Up to this point he’d thought all this was just another one of his father’s ways to scare some sense into him, but those gasoline fumes were real and making him dizzy and the flame on the end of that match was real and the noose and the rickety stool and the wasp’s nest and it was hot, hot, hot in the barn and just when he thought this is it I’m going to die now he woke with his heart hammering in his ears and the bed soaked with sweat.

Despite the ominous nightmare, Virgil returned to the old Schweinhardt place with Mike the next day. They started dismantling the tobacco barn and toting a few pieces of wood at a time to the spot where Virgil stood now sixty-some years later gazing up at a sky the color of molten lead where the tree used to be. It turned out to be a fine clubhouse, and he and Mike would climb up there and eat candy and smoke tobacco in a corncob pipe and talk about fishing and hunting and other manly things and later on about how the bad girls at school were much more fun than good ones. Those days were like pure gold; but, nothing gold can stay, some great poet whose name escaped Virgil at the moment said, and it was true. Nothing gold can stay. But maybe it can leave for a while and then return.

They never got in any trouble over stealing the wood from the barn, but Virgil was in trouble now and he couldn’t think of anyone to turn to other than his dear old friend Mike Musselman. In a way, Mike was responsible for all those nightmares all those years, so maybe he could help with the one Virgil was living right now. He walked on briskly toward Walnut, hoping that would be the case.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Change of Plans, by Melanie Avila

Rusty wiped the scratchy washcloth over his eyes. Tepid water dribbled off his chin and soaked into the satin ruffle around his throat.

"Slow night, eh Rusty?" Winston, the horse man, leaned his head into the cramped space that served as a dressing room.

Rusty stiffened. Winston seemed relaxed—if he suspected anything he'd be acting tense, nervous. The way he was. He let out a breath. "Kids don't seem as excited to see us as they used to. These days they just wanna sit in front of the TV playing those video games."

"Ain't that the truth." Winston rubbed a hand through his hair, sending a halo of dust into the air around him. He sneezed, then dragged a dirty sleeve across his nose. "Boss says we're leaving in a half hour. Got a big set up on Friday and we gotta tear down by tomorrow morning."

"Why the rush?"

Winston shrugged. "Some new gig." He raised one eyebrow. "A big one." Then he shoved a finger into his ear to scratch God knows whatever lurked inside. Probably fleas.

Rusty waited. Winston hoarded information like a kid with all the marbles, and Rusty refused to play his games. He turned back to the cracked mirror and rubbed the washcloth over his mouth.

Winston shuffled his feet on the plank flooring, but didn't speak.

Rusty rolled his eyes. If he wanted some peace and quiet he needed to get Winston to hurry up and say whatever was on his mind. "So Rochester's out? Where we going that takes two days to set up?"

Winston whistled. "It's a big one." He'd already said that. Winston paused another beat, then spilled it. "We got New York."

"We're in New York."

"City. New York City."

Shit. New York frigging City?

A smile spread across Winston's normally surly face. "It gets better. We're gonna be in The Garden. Can you believe it?" He tilted his head towards the ceiling, no doubt imagining the basketball players he idolized hanging around the ring—even though it was off-season—to chat up a crusty old horse wrangler. Right.


Winston snapped out of his daydream. "You aren't excited? A week-long gig in New York is big time. Some other outfit was scheduled but a couple horses got colic, then one of your brothers caught a horn in the throat."

Rusty shuddered. Didn't matter how long he worked this job, the bull's horns still terrified him. If anyone asked he said he stayed on because protecting pansy-assed cowboys gave him a sense of purpose, but really he was just lazy. Finding another job was too much damn work.

Winston's eyes caught his in the mirror. He seemed uncertain, like he had something else to say. Did he know? "So… half an hour then." He turned and left.

Rusty slumped in his chair. New York? He'd been counting on Rochester and the farmers who take the day off for some wholesome family fun. He didn't know anything about people in New York City.

He leaned closer to the mirror. Black makeup stained his eyebrows and a garish red burrowed into the creases around his mouth. He was getting too old for this shit. He dipped the washcloth into the plastic bowl in front of him and wiped off what he could.

Half an hour. He needed to get moving.

His knees popped as he rose from his chair and he dug his gnarled fingers into his lower back. Definitely too old. But who else would hire a drunk? He forced his knees into a crouch and twirled the combination lock on his battered trunk, then pushed aside the shiny red satin and felt hats until he touched the dusty old ropes. Last time he counted there were almost two dozen—more than enough to keep him with a steady supply of gin for the next month. But only if they went to Rochester.

How the hell was he supposed to sell this crap in a big city?

He glanced over his shoulder, then covered the ropes before Winston came back. The old man had been with the show for over twenty years—five more than Rusty—and he liked to think he had some kind of power over Rusty, even though everyone knew the clowns were the stars of the show. Well, after the cowboys.

Winston's power trips were what first gave Rusty the idea. The ropes weren't hard to take. The wrangler drank almost as much as he did and they went through so much rope that two or three a week went unnoticed. True, the lasso rope was a little less common—that's why he was so on edge tonight—but over the past year he'd figured out that a genuine rodeo rope that was used to lasso a calf or goat or whatever scrawny animal they rustled up that week brought in the most cash. He'd lurk near the parking lot after the show, the ropes snaked around his waist, tucked under the folds of fabric. He hit up the families first. If the kids didn't bolt at the sight of him—he still didn't understand why more kids weren't afraid of clowns—he'd slip out a rope and within minutes little Johnny or Betsy had their father by the neck.

Hmm… that gave him an idea.

New Yorkers were a desperate lot. Money drove everything they did, and from what he'd been hearing, it wasn't flowing like in years past. Maybe he could use that to his advantage. He usually had some free time during the day—yet another benefit of being the entertainment—so maybe he could head down to where the suits worked. He'd bring along a sign, but he needed something better than rodeo lassoes. What else needed a rope with a loop at the end?

He chuckled.



He dropped back into the chair, a slow smile brightening his face. He'd get his gin after all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Walking Past, by Amy Sue Nathan

Jed hadn’t reached for Mabel in three years. She looked down when he slipped his hand through hers. Lucky she hadn’t looked to the right. She didn’t see the looped twine jumbled on the sidewalk. The haphazard display looked like the clearance tables she rummaged through at K-mart, but it would not have evoked the same thrill.

“Whatcha doing?” she said.

“Jes holdin yer hand zall.” Jed pushed off on his cane like he could make an imprint in the concrete.

“This big city smog has done clogged up your brain. Crazy fool, you haven’t held my hand since, well, I ain’t gonna argue witcha.”

“Can’t a husband hold his wife’s hand?”

“I guess. You sure you ok?”

Jed nodded and his Sunday hat shifted on his head. Elijah Parker was wrong. Nobody in New York laughed at his hat. Nobody pointed. Nobody here looked at you like they knew you or like they didn’t. Probably why somebody could sell goddamn nooses on the corner like the other folks were selling pretzels and hot dogs and T-shirts. How much would they charge for a noose anyway? He clamped his lips. The cost of a noose was more than anyone carried in their pocket—even in New York. Jed knew that anyone who’d whip out a buck or two or ten didn’t know what it was like to find your only daughter swinging by her neck from the tree in the backyard. He felt the hotel’s continental breakfast at the base of his throat. Maybe four doughnuts were too many, but they were free.

“Radio City is next on the list,” Mabel said.


“Wish we could be seein’ that Christmas show, y’know? Them Rockettes can really kick.”

“Uh huh.”

“What is wrong with you, Jed Samuels? Yer whole life you wanted to see New York City and here we are. It took years of savin’ and dreamin’ to get a week away from real life and now all yi got to say is Ok and Uh huh? Yesterday you couldn’t wait to see the Radio City Music Hall.”

“Guess I’m jes tired.”

Jed slowed his gait and jostled his cane as if to twirl it, but he replaced its rubber tip to the ground and kept moving. Mabel raised her shoulders to her ears, held them there, then returned them to their rightful place. She wiggled her fingers against the back of Jed’s hand, but he didn’t let go. She was glad their hands still fit together. Their arms lulled into a gentle swing, proving they were on vacation even though the look on Jed’s face said he was anywhere but right there that minute.

“Does yer leg hurt?” Jed shook his head. “Well, what’s on yer mind then?”

“Lorelei,” he said.

Mabel stopped. The moving crowd parted around them without a glance or a falter. She looked at Jed, who had the same face he did when he was twenty and thirty and fifty except now he had frowned for so long that his cheeks drooped without any effort.

“She woulda liked New York, that girl. Always wantin’ what she couldn’t have. Like me and those fancy dresses on the dummies in Macy’s window.But what on earth all of a sudden made you think about Lorelei, Jed? Did you see somebody that looked like her? Why didn’t you point her out to me? That happened to me once in Darby, and I liked it sorta, seein what our girl mighta looked like now.”

“Yeah something reminded me of her is all. Made me think.”

Mabel sniffled and blinked. They started walking again, in stride with one another and their new tribe of fellow pedestrians.

Jed’s palm was a little sweaty, but he squeezed his wife’s hand hard. She squeezed back. Then Mabel raised her other hand, dangling the bag with her “I Love New York” snow globe inside, and pointed straight ahead to the bright lights of new memories.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Rituals of Done

It took me years to quit smoking. Once, I quit for 13 months, then started back up again. Then I quit for 18 months ... only to start back up again. And finally, about seven or eight years ago now, I quit for good. But even then, secretly, I cut a deal with myself: "Jon," I said, "you can have ONE cigarette whenever you finish a novel."

Obviously, that was before I realized that I would never actually finish a novel, that I would spend the next five years drafting and redrafting and redrafting and drafting, until every novel I've written since has been "finished" at least ten times. If I smoked a cigarette every time I finished a novel, I'd be a pack-a-day smoker again.

So I guess my point is that I "finished" another novel yesterday--meaning at least I finished another draft of a previously finished novel and sent it forward to someone who no doubt will tell me it's not quite finished yet and would I mind a few changes to make it truly finished ...

I didn't smoke a cigarette. I didn't really do anything. I guess I made spaghetti and drank an Anchor Steam, which isn't so different from my normal evening. Nowadays, "finishing" another novel is worth about 30 minutes of relief that I no longer have to forward "write book, you fool!" on my calendar every day, plus a few emails to my crit group to announce that I'm done and they probably won't see that book again ... until I have to finish it the next time.

But I do kind of miss the ritual and celebration of the old days, when writing "THE END" felt like I'd turned a corner. So you know what would make me feel better? If someone told me their "ritual of done" and it was a doozy ...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

September Prompt

The rules (if you're new):
1. Write a short story inspired by this picture.
2. The story must be 1,000 words or less.
3. I'll post them next week and throw it open to comments.

Happy writing, and I'll see you next week!

Friday, September 4, 2009

A New Project

I'm launching a new blog this winter, so I hope you'll drop by. Of course, it will help (a lot) if you like to grow tomatoes, since it's a blog about growing tomatoes in South Florida.

I'm pretty excited, though. First off, I love growing tomatoes. And second, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel will be promoting my tomato blog in the newspaper and on their website. I've been writing articles for the Sun-Sentinel for about 10 years, and I thought it was really cool of my editor to make this offer. Now I only hope something doesn't go wrong this season ...

So, without further ado:

Thursday, September 3, 2009

My Last Line

I know I shouldn't do this, but I often can't help myself. Lots of times when I start a book, I flip to the last page and I read just the last sentence. Only the last sentence. Then I play a game with myself to guess how it gets from the first sentence to that last, usually inexplicable, sentence.

So, in honor of my own awful habit, and in honor of the rewrite that I'm just (*still*) finishing, here is the most recent last sentence of my book:

In an instant, Murph's room was engulfed in laughter and the chattering of two hundred tiny hot air balloons, each lending its own unique voice to the ocean of joyous noise.

So can anybody guess my theme?