Thursday, July 31, 2008

mGk Threw Down Two Gauntlets. I Only Picked One Up.

100 things you may or may not know about me:

1. The biggest deterrent to me learning to drive a stick was the car my mom owned at the time I was learning to drive.
2. I eventually wrecked that car.
3. I subsequently put a dent in the bumper of her next car.
4. I still feel terrible about both of those things.
5. If I had cable, I would probably never stop watching crap.
6. I wish I could go back in time to the 1904 World's Fair.
7. I'd really miss internet and air conditioning if I did go back in time.
8. I'm a better hitter and fielder now than I was when I actually played baseball on a team.
9. If it hadn't been for Will Wilcox and John Whalen, I would have quit baseball forever after fifth grade.
10. I don't have a tattoo.
11. I know right where I'd put one if I got one.
12. I don't know what I'd get.
13. Eighteen year-old Elliot could play drums ten times better than twenty-five year old Elliot.
14. I wish that weren't true.
15. I love Acrodyl (my cat) more than Ricky (the cat I grew up with).
16. I feel incredibly guilty about that.
17. Ricky died while I was at school in Minnesota.
18. I can't remember the last thing I said to him.
19. I still have dreams that he's not dead, and that he finally comes home.
20. I've gained twenty-three pounds in a year.
21. They're not the good kind.
22. I always start on the left foot and end on the right foot.
23. I wish I knew how to tap dance.
24. I'm amazed every day Kathy puts up with me.
25. I wish I had gone straight to Webster U right out of high school.
26. But then I never would have met Kathy.
27. I play guitar.
28. I only know about three songs.
29. One of them is "Stairway to Heaven"
30. I love riding my bicycle.
31. I haven't really ridden my bicycle in over a year.
32. I keep justifying spending money on the bicycle in the hopes it will get me to ride more.
33. I know it should work the other way around.
34. If I get nudged/jostled/poked or in any other way called to attention in that twilight just-before-sleep stage, it will take me three hours to fall back to sleep.
35. My work cell phone has the only alarm clock noise that's ever been able to consistently wake me up.
36. I know I don't write enough.
37. I don't really have anybody I call to go hang out with anymore.
38. Considering we don't have cable, we have a really nice gigantic television.
39. My favorite t-shirt when I was 10 looked like a dress on me.
40. My favorite t-shirt when I was 18 was tight accross the chest and sleeves.
41. They were the same shirt.
42. I wish I had met Douglas Adams before he died.
43. In my imagination, he would love that he's number 42 on my list.
44. I have one sister.
45. I hated my sister when I was in middle school and she was in high school.
46. She was a senior when I was a freshman.
47. She was one of my best friends that first year of high school.
48. She still is one of my best friends.
49. I have four nieces and two nephews.
50. I feel guilty that I have a favorite.
51. I hate that I haven't graduated college yet.
52. I think that being an older student makes me a better student.
53. My wife cuts my hair.
54. Yesterday I thought she was going to intentionally cut it badly.
55. I am impossible to play board games with one on one.
56. Especially if I am losing.
57. I ruined one of her favorite childhood board games yesterday.
58. I can't believe that good looking retaining wall in the backyard was built by me and my family.
59. I have a bad habit of leaving my shoes in the middle of the floor.
60. I always push my chairs in at work.
61. I hardly ever push my chairs in at home.
62. I still have dreams that I work at Target.
63. Those are my second-least favorite dreams.
64. My least favorite dreams are about remembering a class I've been skipping all semester on the last day before finals.
65. I know that stems from the way I approached my first foray into college life.
66. Green is my favorite color.
67. I have lost all respect for Aerosmith.
68. My legs and torso are not proportionate to each other.
69. I still laugh at stupid juvenile things (like the number 69).
70. There's a dream catcher in my bedroom.
71. I get mad at it when it doesn't work.
72. If I lived alone, I know I would drink quite a bit more.
73. I thank my lucky stars I do not live alone.
74. But I won't turn down a 7 & 7.
75. I am a beer snob.
76. By which I mean, Budweiser is not real beer.
77. But I still was opposed to In-Bev's takeover of A-B.
78. I love the fall.
79. When I worked in retail, I hated Christmas.
80. I've celebrated it twice since leaving retail.
81. It's only been one year since I left retail.
82. Christmas in July rocks.
83. I am a night person.
84. I drink way too much Coca-Cola.
85. I've only ever left the country once.
86. I spent a week in London with my high school band and choir.
87. I had the perfect opportunity to sneak off and get a pint of Guinness.
88. I couldn't, because I had left my passport at the hotel.
89. There's little in the world better than a good book.
90. Except for a hot woman reading a good book.
91. Kathy is currently reading All the King's Men
92. That's not just a good book, it's a great book.
93. I've been pulled over four times for having a headlight out.
94. I know I could swing dance if I just did it more often.
95. In fourth grade, I was convinced I would become a starship pilot when I got older.
96. I still haven't really let that dream go.
97. I once pulled a bicycle, two water bottles, a bike pump and a cyclo computer out of poison ivy without realizing it was poison ivy.
98. I didn't get a rash or anything.
99. Pictures exist of me wearing a blue dress.
100. I was two years old at the time.

Your turn.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Signs The Housing Market is Worse Than You Thought...

This is ridiculous! We need to do something! Even the smaller houses that should be relatively affordable and safe are sitting empty! What can be done?

Seriously, this is really lowering the property values around here!

I know it's been two weeks, but...

I need your help. Please follow this link and sign the petition to impeach President Bush. You don't have to agree with everthing Dennis Kucinich stands for, but think hard about what the current administration has done in the seven years they've been in place. The abuses of executive power, the lack of respect for the constitution. Do it. And then I promise more diligent blogging.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Late Tuesday Excerpt

Kind of late, I know. But you're getting an interesting treat tonight with it. See, normally with a Tuesday Excerpt you get a short bit from a longer piece. But tonight, what you're getting is something else.

Writing is much like any other art (painting, composing, sculpting) in that sometimes the artist has a few false starts before finding a groove. Bearing that in mind, for every story I finish you can safely guess that there were three more started. So what do I do with those three unfinished stories? Well, sometimes they just sit forever, and I find them later and read what I've got and decide it's terrible. Sometimes, I come back and say, "Hey, that's not bad." The only problem is that it's normally a long time before I come back, and it's hard to remember just where I was going to take the story.

So tonight, I'm sharing with you a selection of those false starts. Some have potential (a couple are already past ten pages), some are so so, and some are just terrible. What you may notice is a similarity in theme, or character or plot elements within these false starts, because what I am doing is fine-tuning an idea. Most of what you are seeing tonight eventually became one of two stories; "Special Detail" or "Momentum." There is also one thrown in about buying a used car that I really want to revisit now and try and tweak. So, without further explanation:


from an Untitled work, spring 2006

Michael would later reflect on his first job out of college, at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant at the Mall of America, and wonder if things wouldn’t have been better if he had just stayed there. Not even to advance in employment, from server to captain of servers, to assistant floor manager, to floor manager, and so on, but just to remain a server, and smile, and bring people shrimp cocktails, shrimp burgers, barbecued shrimp, and so on, and earn the tips that bought him the car that got him into so much trouble.

The mob. Don’t think it disappeared. It seems now to be a Hollywood legend, a thing of the past, romanticized to no end by names like Dean Martin, Al Pacino, and so forth. Guy Richie stylized the British mafia as nothing more than a bunch of blundering buffoons. We all had a good laugh, even me and Michael. Roommates, he and I, back at good the good old U of M. That’s what we like to call the University of Minnesota, but I suppose that’s what kids who go to University of Michigan call their school. We used to spend hours watching mafia movies. He and I went as gangsters one Halloween (that’s gangsters, not gangstas). He ended up one in real life. With a capitol G.

We lost touch for a few years out of school. I was dating this girl I met at graduation, and he was using his business accounting degree to sell plates of shrimp to tourists. We got together every once in a while, reminisced annually. Six years out of school, he found a real job at an architecture firm called Ellerbee-Beckett, as their Assistant Chief Executive Accountant in charge of Institutional Projects. Basically, this meant that he was in charge of the money being spent on building more ridiculously overpriced (and ridiculous looking) structures on the very college campus he said, on graduation day, “Man, I’ve had some great times here. I never want to leave.”

As a journalist, I should have caught on quicker, but I was blinded by his new apartment on our fifth annual catching-up-and-getting-smashed meeting. The drinks were free, the food was free, the limo was free. Everybody knew Fran Levinson owned that bar. Everybody was about to find out he owned Ellerbee-Beckett, too.

It would be almost another year before I found out Fran also owned Michael Rose.

“Colin Fairmount,” I answered my phone. It was Craig Jeffries, the editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. A man with a plan. A man with vision. A man who I had been trying to avoid because I didn’t have my story done.

“Fairmount.” He started every conversation with the last name of the person he was talking to.


from an unfinished work titled "In Which Colin, Fed Up With His VW, Buys A Used Car" spring 2006

“No, this one isn’t going to cut it,” he said, sizing up the out of place Skoda sitting on the Volkswagen dealer’s lot. The man helping him had a thick Germanic accent that Colin couldn’t quite wrap his head completely around. The man gestured at the automobile—for that is what it was, no odd Eastern-European model could rightly be called a ‘car’ in Colin’s mind—and looked helplessly at Colin.

“What, wrong kind of color?”

Colin regarded the color, something he had been trying to avoid since he first saw it; he had so far focused on the tires, the rims, the hubcaps, the logo on the grill, the bumper sticker which read “I’m not tailgating, I’m inspecting their—“ but was ripped off and so the punch-line was missing, anything but register the sickening day-glow orange paint with the equally eye-twisting fluorescent purple detail work. “The colors are awful,” he admitted. “But that’s not the problem.”

“Custom paint job. The man who trades this car, tells me so. Custom, he said. Premium. Cost him a lot. I gave him good deal on trade in. Do you have trade in?”

“My car,” Colin inserted a sigh here. “Is in Moline, Illinois.”

Three days earlier, on a routine trip to Racine, Wisconsin to visit a friend of his from college, Colin’s car had overheated in the middle of the night. “Your water pump went out,” the stranger on the phone from Middle-Of-Nowhere, Illinois told him the morning after this happened. “So you’re timing belt is, well, you got close to a hundred and fifty thousand miles on there, it was time for it to be replaced anyway.”

“I just got the timing belt replaced. The whole engine just got rebuilt. Why didn’t they tell me I needed a new water pump?”

There was a long intake of breath from the other end of the line. “Well, it’s cause they either got shit for brains,” here he paused, as if for dramatic effect. “Or your water pump looked fine. They’ll go out on you, all of a sudden. One minute pumping water like a heart pumping blood, next minute you’re on the side of the road.” He took a breath, and Colin sensed the man would go on and on if left to his own devices.

“How much to have it repaired?” he asked.

“Shoot, new timing belt and water pump for a V Dub? You want me to do it, you’re talking at least seven hundred parts and labor, maybe more. Not to mention I can’t start today, cause I ain’t even got the parts, gotta order them from Chicago.”

Colin stared out of his hotel room window, eyes unfocused and reliving the previous evening. The check engine light, the temperature gauge buried in the red, way too hot zone, the grinding noise as his engine died. Then the state trooper stopping and calling in the tow truck. The truck taking the car twelve miles in the wrong direction, while he and the state trooper followed. The state trooper being nice enough to drive him to the nearest hotel which happened to be sixty miles away, in Moline. His room, from a four story Howard Johnson or Red Roof or something along those lines, overlooked a plethora of car dealerships, the most prominent of which was a Volkswagen dealer. “Can’t you order them from the dealership in Moline?” To which the inevitable response was that no, he ordered all of his parts from his cousin’s automotive supply in Chicago.

And so Colin found himself at the odd dealership, talking to the odd man, looking at the odd car. “It’s a 1997 Jetta, and it’s in Moline with a broken water pump and a melted timing belt.” He looked again at the Skoda. “I hate this.”

“You take better care of your car, then these things happen, well, they won’t.” The man looked again at the Skoda. “It is good car, reliable. And only used car on lot. You want a new car?”

“No.” That was something Colin found odd, more odd than the mechanic not ordering the parts from Moline, and almost as odd as the Skoda itself; six car dealerships, and not one used car aside from this, for lack of a better term, thing. “How can this be the only used car you have?”

“We a giant sale are having, all of our used cars last weekend. Super Six-Hundred Sale. Once every few months. All dealers here, all owned by same man. He gather all used cars, sells them at the fairgrounds. This is all that’s left.” Colin peered into the interior and saw a yellow and black stripe pattern on the seats, gearshift and steering wheel.

“I wonder why.”


from an Untitled work, spring 2006


Every morning, when he stepped out of his room and into the hall, he gave a silent command to everybody; stay out of my way, and everything will be fine. He would never have hurt anybody, hadn’t done so off the lacrosse field and wasn’t going to start now. Actually backing up his mere presence with actions would have required more time than was given to him in a day, and that time was precious. Grades needed to be kept up to stay on the team. In the off season, trips to the gym needed to replace the rigorous practices he faced during the regular season.

He slept only four hours a night; classes began for him at eight every morning, even Fridays, and nobody else on his floor went to class on Fridays because they were on the Northeast end of campus, the school of design sector, and they never had classes on Fridays. Design students loaded their Tuesdays and Thursdays with gen-eds and took their color classes and computer animation courses on Mondays and Wednesdays, leaving Friday as an extra day of the weekend. He had deliberately chosen Pennington Hall because it was farthest from both the business college and the lacrosse field. He ignored the nearby gym, claiming the main student gym on the south side of campus was far superior. He didn’t know for sure, because he had never been to the gym attached to Pennington Hall. He ran to practice as a warm up. He rode his bicycle to class on days when it wasn’t raining. He had class until three every day, and returned to his dorm before doing anything else. Studying was done after working out.

He was glad his roommate had never shown up for school.


“Hey, guys, we have a floor meeting tonight in the lounge downstairs. I ordered some pizza, I’ve got some soda, we’re going to talk about this semester, okay?” His residents took no notice of him, on their way out. He continued walking to his room. Opening the door, he found underwear duct-taped to his ceiling. A note, hanging from a pair of gray boxer-briefs, read “Nate, you should have locked your room when you left. Call my room when you get back. Love, Brian.”

“Son of a bitch,” Nathan muttered, as he began pulling his underpants off the ceiling, standing on his tip-toes to reach them. Somebody knocked on his door, so he cleared his throat. “Just a second.” The situation was hopeless, he decided, so he stepped out of his room and into the hall and came face to face with Brandon.

Brandon was holding a piece of paper which he shoved in Nathan’s face. “What’s this?” It was a sheet of paper with a drawing of Bart Simpson and his friend Milhouse. Underneath their picture, in bold black letters, were the names “Brandon L.” and “Cameron S.”

“It’s your new Door Decoration. Everybody’s got new ones for the new semester.” Indeed, ever door had a similar piece of paper; Mike D. and Paul T. had a drawing of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Jeff S. and Jerry N. had Batman and Superman. Nathan himself had Huckleberry Hound.

“Okay, but what’s this?” Brandon pointed to the second name on his sheet of paper.

“Well, come to the meeting tonight at 7:30 in the downstairs lounge, and you’ll find out. Okay? And, pass the information along to any of the other guys you see, please?”

“Am I getting a roommate?”

“Come to the meeting.” Nathan tried to look intimidating, but as his head came to Brandon’s shoulders it was, he decided, probably less than impressive.

“I’ll be working out at 7:30.” Brandon walked away, bumping into Nathan’s shoulder as he passed him. Nathan watched Brandon as he strode down the hall, shoulders back, head high, effortlessly tall and intimidating.

“Shit.” Nathan muttered before returning to his room.


Cameron Sound walked into Pennington Hall with only his messenger bag. Everything else he intended to bring along to school was still at home, a mere seventeen miles away. He approached the front desk slowly, glancing around the room; the notice board still declaring that refrigerators must be unplugged over winter break. Dates were given for people driving home, along with destinations and invitations for anyone interested to split the cost of gas. He greeted the guy sitting behind the desk. “Hi, I’m supposed to be moving in here, how do I go about doing that?”

“Student ID?” the person asked. Cameron saw “Jake” on his nametag.

“Here you go, Jake.” Cameron said, handing him the fresh ID he had been given that morning; the shadows behind him in the picture gave the impression of a mullet. Jake checked a list he had sitting beside him on the desk, running down a column with his long, thin finger.

“Okay, Cam, you’re in room E434.” Jake swiped Cameron’s ID through a card reader mounted to the wall, pushed a button on the apparatus and slid it through again. “I just activated your card so it will open the front doors,” he pointed to the doors that were propped open at the moment. “And also the interior doors leading to the east and north wings.” He pointed to doors at opposite ends of the lobby. “Front door is unlocked between eight in the morning and four in the afternoon, but the interior doors are always locked, so don’t lose this.” Jake handed the ID back to Cameron.

“Which door is mine?”

“East Wing, that door there.” Jake pointed to the door closest to Cameron. A blonde girl in a ruffled skirt emerged from the door and looked at Cameron for a second before turning and exiting through the open front door. “Now, if you would just fill out this paperwork and I’ll get your key. Have you met your Resident Advisor yet?” Cameron admitted he had not, and Jake shook his head. “Sorry. You have to sign something for him before I can give you your key. I’ll give it to him next time I see him, or I can call and see if he’s in his room.” Jake handed Cameron a stack of paper Tolstoy would have been proud to turn out and vanished behind a partition.

Cameron began filling it out, sighing at each mention he encountered of “The University” because, he kept telling himself, he was finally moving on, finally getting away from high school. Finally, he was doing the right thing.

Jake came back and sat heavily in his chair. “Okay, your RA’s name is Nathan, and he’s having a floor meeting at 7:30 in the lounge.” Jake pointed at a room with windows all around it behind Cameron. “He says he’ll meet you there, is that okay?”

“Sure,” Cameron said. “Do you have a map of the campus? I’ll just walk around looking for my classes.”


“I’m getting a roommate, Emily. Can you believe it?” He ground his teeth into the phone.

“Well, yes, I can; I have three roommates and I live in what used to be the floor lounge. I never thought it was fair you had a double to yourself.”

“I’m not the only one; Rob down the hall has a double, and there’s only three guys in the quad on my floor. Why single me out?”

“It’s not a conspiracy against you, you know.”

“Yeah, well, it could be. I’m going to workout, will you meet me at the gym?” He moved himself to the edge of his bed and swung his legs down. They dangled in the empty space between the top and bottom bunks.

“No, we have a floor meeting tonight, discussing what we’re doing this semester or something.”

“I wonder why my advisor never does anything like that,” Brandon mused. “Okay, well, I’ll see you tomorrow. Did you get into the comp two class I’m in?”

“I’m not sure, I have to go talk to the teacher first day of class. Have a good workout.”

“Bye.” Brandon hung up the phone and dropped to the floor. His telephone, which he had sitting on his bed, took a fall behind him.

He turned and saw that the phone had been ruined when it fell. The earpiece had broken off, the keypad had come detached. It was an ancient phone he had taken from his parents’ basement before coming to college, and he was loath to shell out money to buy a new phone. “Damn it all, now I’ve got to go to the store tonight.”


from an Untitled work, spring 2006

After my last gas bill, I had turned off my heater and not turned it back on, so the early January cold intruded my space, nearly freezing my extremities every time I slept. I couldn’t wait to sleep in my old room, with Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins smiling at me from my wall.

The muted television displayed an image of the vice president. Headlines scrawled along the bottom of the screen. Flights cancelled, major universities shutting down campuses, traffic jams out of New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington DC, and Chicago. Schaumburg was only about twenty miles from Evanston, but with a traffic jam, it was likely to take me two hours or more. My phone rang.

“This is Cameron Sound.”

“Honey, it’s your mother. Are you safe?” I glanced out my window at the Northwestern Campus, watching the cars as they periodically pulled out from the parking lot, driving somewhere imaginary that was safer than where they were.

“I’m fine, Mom.” Put up a defense, don’t seem too eager; it’s not your style to be agreeable. You are still rebelling, even though you’re twenty-one years old and should, by all rights, be an adult.

“Are you sure? I’m worried about you. Did you hear that the terror level was raised?” I closed my eyes. What was she doing right now? Multi-tasking for sure. Was she playing Solitaire on her computer? Was she preparing lunch? I heard my mother take a deep breath. Was she smoking again? I saw her chain smoking, sitting in the kitchen blowing the smoke out the window.

“I don’t live in a cave.” I picked at my sleeve. My cell phone rang, but I ignored it.

“Come home.”

My cell phone continued to ring even after I had left Evanston. The sound mixed with honking and the hum of my engine. I ignored it. It rang. I ignored it. It rang and rang. I finally picked it up and glanced at the number that was calling. It was just a number, nobody in my phone book, but it was somebody in Schaumburg. “I don’t know who you are,” I scolded the phone. “I’m not picking you up.”

I set my phone on the console, sliding it underneath the parking brake lever. The Volkswagen in front of me had Missouri license plates and was emitting a rhythmic thumping which shook my mirrors. My phone rang. I set my hand on the parking brake lever and put my thumb over the button. I clicked the button several times, then moved my hand to my gearshift and pushed it from neutral to third, second, first, neutral, first, neutral, and first one more time, before slowly letting the clutch out and pushing down on the gas. The tension of the clutch pushed my foot hard; I slid backwards a few feet before the clutch engaged and inched me forward. I rocked back and forth like this until the Volkswagen pulled ahead, and I followed.

“This is Cameron Sound,” I finally gave in to the phone. Silence. “This is Cameron Sound, hello?”

“Cameron.” The voice sounded nervous. It cleared it’s throat. “Cameron, it’s—it’s Amanda.”

The booming bass from the Volkswagen stopped. My engine ran silent. All I could hear was Amanda’s voice. “Amanda.”

I heard her sigh, saw her sigh, her lips parted, phone to her left ear, left elbow leaning on a table, right hand brushing her hair behind her right ear over and over. I pulled my car forward another car length. “I’m sorry to call you,” she explained. “I’m in trouble.”

What kind of trouble could she be in that it drove her to call me of all people? “Nothing is springing to my mind,” I said aloud.


“Nothing. What kind of trouble are you in?” The Volkswagen pulled ahead suddenly, and beyond it I saw traffic begin to flow at a quicker pace.

“Are you near home?”

“On my way,” I told her. “Leaving Evanston now. What kind of trouble are you in?”

“My flight got cancelled. Trains aren’t running, busses are running on a limited schedule and they’re all booked.” Where do I come in? “Listen, I called everybody, my mom can’t get away from work and my dad can’t get down here from Detroit, everybody else I know is in the same boat I am, nobody can head to Lawrence.”

Traffic was moving along well now, and I drove in silence for half a mile with the phone to my ear, listening to her breath on the other end.

“Cameron, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have called you, it was a last resort, and if you can’t take me, just say so.”

“You want me to take you to Lawrence?” Every time I had to shift, I took my right hand off the steering wheel and frantically pushed up a gear. This is a trick I used to find out if my wheels were properly aligned. I was in fourth gear now, and cruising well.

“You’re the only person who can help me. But you don’t have to.” I pushed into fifth gear, changed lanes and passed the Volkswagen, leaving the throbbing bass behind.

My mother was standing on the porch, waving and smiling and sending a thousand thank-yous heavenward for my safe arrival. I smelled charred wood and vegetable soup simmering on the stove. “I’m not staying,” I told her right away. “I’m sorry.”

“Why not? You’re not going back into the city are you?” She absent-mindedly took a cigarette from a silver case she kept in her pocket and stuck it in her mouth, lighting it with a souvenir Hard Rock Café Zippo. I stared at her.

“Where’s Dad, Mom?” I dropped my laptop bag to the floor with a thud. She took a drag and walked to the cold fireplace, reaching in and opening the floo and blowing the smoke at the burnt wood in the grate.

“He’s at the grocery store. When I told him you were coming home, he went out to buy a case of beer. Whatever that beer is you always ask for.” She flicked the ashes into the fireplace and looked at me.

“Does he know you started smoking again?” She looked at her cigarette, eyelids drawing slowly up, up, revealing the whites of her eyes in sharper and sharper detail. She took a quick puff and smiled at me.

“Stressful day, you know how it is.”

“Must be. Stressful enough to sift through all those boxes of crap in the basement and find your lighter and cigarette flask.” I walked to the bathroom. When I came out, she had thrown her cigarette into the fireplace and was preparing a fire. “Disposing of the evidence?”

“Don’t start. Why aren’t you staying?” She lit the fire starter and stood. “Make sure the fire catches while I go check on the soup.” My mother was like a cigarette herself, leaving me breathless and winded.

“No, I’m not staying. I’m taking Amanda to school.”

I watched the fireplace, the flames licking the stack of wood. “You’re taking Amanda to school?” I could smell the smoke from her clothes as she walked closer to me. “Are you two back together?” Of course not. We broke up two years ago and that was it. I didn’t answer her.

“I’m doing her a favor; she’s got to be back before class starts Thursday.”

“And you’re just going to take a couple of days to drive a girl you barely ever talk to halfway across the country?”

“You smell like cigarettes. I love you.”

She lived in one of those subdivisions which have only six houses repeated a hundred times, each off-white with a brick façade around the door. Amanda’s house had been repainted a soothing baby blue since the last time I saw it. I rang the bell and held my breath as the door opened. “Could you take this?” She shoved a suitcase at me.

“Nice to see you, Amanda.” I opened my trunk and moved my junk around to make room for her suitcase which I assumed contained her entire wardrobe. With a thud behind me, I realized I had been wrong. “Got enough clothes?”

“I didn’t pack the sweater you gave me for my seventeenth birthday,” she explained. “So yes, I have just enough clothes.” This remark was followed by a short lived smirk, which was replaced with a look of disgust. “I’m sorry, that’s really mean of me. I should be more grateful. Thank you for doing this, Cameron.”

She stood, facing me, her hair falling like a black curtain over her forehead and eyes. She wore a long sleeve white shirt underneath a light blue KU tee. Her black boots disappeared into the cuffs of her faded jeans. The left boot rocked back and forth. Her arms were raised, halfway, in a gesture that appeared to be an aborted hug. I stuck out my right hand and took hers. “You’re welcome; I won’t ask for a hug so you don’t need to offer one. Just get in.”


Well, there they are. Like I said, you'll notice similar themes and/or characters, not only here but it other stories I've written. Hope this makes up for my recent bad blogging skills...

"All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things." -Bobby Knight

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Time Got Away From Me...

...and now I'm going to play a blogging game.

Answer the following questions by typing the answers into Google Image Search. Then post the picture that you like best for the answer.

My Age:

A Place I would Like to Visit:

My Favorite Place:

My Favorite Object":

My Favorite Food:

My Favorite Animal:

My Favorite Color:

Town Where I Was Born:

A Past Pet:

My First Name:

My Middle Name:

My Last Name:

A Bad Habit:

My First Job:

My Current Occupation:

My Grandmother's Name:

What Are You Doing Right Now?:

There you go! Now, blogging buddies, gopher it!

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Lady Mondegreen

So, the good people at Merriam-Webster released their list of new words for the 2008 edition, and my favorite from the list is the word mondegreen, a word or phrase that results from a mishearing of something said or sung. Check out Mondegreen at Wikipedia.

I love this word. It's now my new favorite word. My favorite mondegreens? Here they are:

Excuse me, while I kiss this guy.

There's a bathroom on the right.

Hold me Closer, Tony Danza.

And there's a wino down the road, we should have stolen Oreos.

What have I become, my Swedish friend?

What do you do when all your enemies are French?

There are a lot more, but, well, just google mondegreen or misheard lyrics, and you'll see.

No excerpt today, I don't have the time to comb through my stuff. Tomorrow. Promise. And also tomorrow, a story about a wall made out of stone.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Strictly Enforced

So yesterday, as I was barreling down the terrifyingly narrow lanes of I-44, Eastbound at Berry Rd in Webster Groves, I saw one of those flashing signs that gives people warnings about impending construction or lane shifts or whatever. You know the type. This particular one warned of stopping on the shoulder.

You see, for those of you who don't live in the StL, one of our major highways, Highway 40 (US 40, known to outsiders as I-64) is closed for a five mile stretch between I-270 and I-170. And Eastbound from there for five miles, from I-170 to Kingshighway, it is under construction (and that five mile stretch will close next year, all year). What this means is that the other two East/West Interstates in the area are overly congested, along with every concievable road I could normally take to go home from work (including the road on which my office sits). To compensate for this, the lanes on I-70 between 270 and 170 and the lanes on I-44 between 270 and downtown have been restriped narrower to accomodate for an extra lane in each direction. This hardly solves the problem, because now instead of just being jammed in traffic, we're jammed in traffic and it's easier to talk to each other because our cars are, no joke, mere inches apart. When traffic is moving along at the speed limit, it's harrowing when you are passing or getting passed, especially if there's a semi involved.

But I digress. I was talking about I-44 Eastbound at Berry Rd and the warning sign about stopping on the shoulder. My point was that due to the lane re-striping, the shoulder on each side of the road has virtually vanished. Nowhere to park if you have a flat tire, you just have to book it to the next exit and pray your wheel holds up.

But the warning sign made me cry. Why? Well, it had the message flash across it in two sections, the first being "NO STOPPING ON SHOULDER." No problem there. But the second part is what did it: "STRICKLY ENFORCED."

Wait wait wait wait..."STRICKLY?" What the hell does "Strickly" mean? Well, I Googled it and came up with a number of companies that have it as part of their name, but my favorite was the first link from the Urban Dictionary. The definition of strickly? "How morons spell strictly."

Yes, that is right, I just called Mo-Dot morons. First off, tell me why it takes Iowa, a tiny state without the tax base that Missouri has, five years to turn seventy miles of two-lane highway into a four-lane expressway complete with guideposts to let you know that you're still on it (I'm talking about the Avenue of the Saints here) when in the same time Missouri can only turn fifteen of its forty miles from two to four lanes. Tell me why. Because they're morons. Why is it that even though the I-64 construction project has been going on for two years now, the only visible progress I have seen is the completion of one seldom-used bridge, half of the Kingshighway bridge, worse commutes and five miles of closed highway? Because they're morons.

Lucky for them, today when I drove by the same sign, it had been corrected. Possibly some other enraged English Major with nothing better to do called in. But I'm glad it got fixed; people learn best from example, and from seeing. If Mo-Dot, a publicly funded government agency, can't spell correctly, then the general public will start to think spelling and grammar are optional. Well, just so you know, they're not.

One more thing; My Sister just recently blogged about her eyebrow. I, too, have only the one (unless I take measures against the creeping unibrow). Today, sitting on the exit ramp at I-44 and Laclede Station, I noticed a woman about my age in a Subaru station wagon (I know, this is hilarious because I drive a Jetta, we were both white, and the Stuff White People Like blog has mentioned how Jettas and Subaru Station Wagons were at one time the car of choice for trendy white people). She was applying a piece of hair-removing wax paper to her unibrow. I thought I should look away, but I understood that if she caught me looking, all I had to do was point out my own unkempt forehead moustache and she would be relieved of all embarassment. What makes this better is that this happened no more than a mile from my sister's house; see, Mo, you and I are not alone, not even in our own neighborhoods.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Excerpt...and an Apology...

Friday night, instead of free-writing, I went to the Skyview Drive-In to see Wall-E and Get Smart. Wall-E was definitely the better of the two, but Get Smart did have its moments. I liked a lot of the nods to the original series but, let's face it, Steve Carell, as hilarious as he can be, is no Don Adams. But back to the matter at hand, that being the blog.

The air conditioning unit outside our house sits on a concrete slab on the side of a hill, and to our dismay we discovered last week that with all the recent rain, the concrete slab has started pitching down the hill a bit. And, of course, the rotting crumbling railroad tie retaining wall wasn't going to hold. So, we had a grandiose plan for the backyard, part of it being an overhaul of this section of the yard. I thought a quick fix was in order, but then I realized that, what the hell, why not go for it and do what we want? Well, Kathy had already come to this decision because she's much more quick-witted and right about these things. So we dropped a bunch of money on retaining wall blocks, tools, rocks, etc., everything we need to build not one but two retaining walls in our back yard, to kind of step it down on that side and level out the area where the a/c unit sits. So, for the past two evenings, we've been working on tilling, digging, moving, sweating, and singing chain-gang songs. And so far, the wall is...not even remotely looking like a wall. In fact, at this point, if we get a torrential downpour (the likes of which we have in fact seen many of since March), our a/c unit will probably end up in our neighbor's yard. But we've got clear skies until Thursday-ish, so tomorrow we will work fervently to at least get enough of a wall to actually have it retain something. This also explains why I didn't free write Saturday or Sunday. That, and the suggestions were, um...well, a murder was too general, and the other suggestion was too You Don't Mess With the Zohan. But I did like the idea of making the president go away...

Right, well, there's a lot going on that I would love to talk about, but most of it has little to do with the world of writing. So, forget it, I'll get to the excerpt.

This comes from a writing exercise I did this past semester. We were supposed to write for twenty minutes about an object that held a special meaning for us. And after we were done doing that, it was all out of our system so we could write a few pages about it with some distance, as if we didn't know all of that significance.

I chose a snare drum head from the days of The Hitchhikers. And what you're getting is part of the second half of the exercise, the distanced bit.


from a writing exercise, March 2008

When I arrived, Alan greeted me at the door solemnly and showed me in. I was surrounded by Rob’s family, not a familiar face in the crowd beyond Mr. and Mrs. Sullivan, Alan, and Rob’s older sister Maggie, who had flown in from Boston where she was at grad school. The food all tasted the same to me, the meatballs sharing a texture with the crackers and cheese. Alan pulled me aside after an hour’s worth of nervous eating and took me up to Rob’s room. He told me to take anything, any one thing, to remember Rob by. I didn’t have the heart or desire to tell him that I already had Rob’s copy of his favorite book, One Hundred Years of Solitude and a hefty portion of his CD collection, but I wasn’t about to turn Alan down. I looked around the room and saw what for me had been an enigma for some time, but that I had never taken the time to ask Rob about. It was a circular object, about fourteen inches in diameter, made of flimsy plastic and coated with something white and scratchy. It was ringed with a metal hoop that gave it its firm shape, and it had been drawn on with markers over and over, so that barely any of it was legible as I stood in the middle of the room gazing at it. I asked Alan if he knew what it was. He said it was the head of a snare drum.

I took it home with me, saying goodbye to Alan and his parents, seeking out Maggie and giving her the hug I had wanted to give her since I was in fifth grade and I thought she was so pretty. I sat in my room on my bed with the drum head in my lap and stared at it. Up close, the drawings and writings were little more legible, as they had been drawn and drawn over it seemed countless times. I didn’t recognize any of the handwriting as Rob’s, and the drawings were altogether too straight-edged to be his. I looked at my wall, saw the poster Rob had drawn for a party we had thrown and compared the drawings. There was no similarity at all; Rob’s drawings were all lazy and relaxed, the angles coming together in acute and obtuse meetings. But the drawings on the drum head were sharp, right-angled. The lines were straight, but his tended to curve slightly inward as he drew. None of the lines were smeared on the drum head, either, but Rob’s lines were almost always smeared from his left hand moving the marker or pen across the medium. I examined the drum head closer, trying to pick out phrases or meanings from the drawings.

There was a tractor drawn on the bottom, smoke creeping from its exhaust pipe, forming the words “The Farm Team.” Next to that, somebody had copied pi out to twenty digits, but many of the later numbers were obscured by a hasty scrawling of “I Like Beth.” Somebody had at one time crossed out the word “Beth” and written above it “Skittles” but the line and the replacement word had been drawn with something less permanent than the original message. I couldn’t think of a single Beth that I knew aside from a distant cousin in Texas. Somebody else had drawn what looked like three Easter Island statues on the left side, under which the initials “B.S.H.” were set out in strong block letters. In the center, a five point star had been drawn and it seemed to provide a barrier against the rest of the marker; within the star, the head was mostly white, with a few dark spots as if something had struck it, and it occurred to me that this is probably where whoever had used the drum head had beat it with his or her sticks. I continued looking around it to see if there was anything else I could read. The same hand that had proclaimed affection for Beth also had written “Do or Do Not, There Is No Try” next to the stone heads, and then the quadratic formula followed in another hand.


There you have it!

"Coleridge was a drug addict. Poe was an alcoholic. Marlowe was killed by a man whom he was treacherously trying to stab. Pope took money to keep a woman's name out of a satire then wrote a piece so that she could still be recognized anyhow. Chatterton killed himself. Byron was accused of incest. Do you still want to a writer - and if so, why?" -Bennett Cerf