Friday, January 15, 2010

Power Outage


It’s quarter to nine and it’s still pitch black along the Pacific Northwest coastline. Part of this has to do with the landscape’s position in relation to the rising sun and part of it has to do waterlogged clouds that hog the sky. The wind whips my face. This isn’t rain but some sordid combo of hail and wet BBs. Oregon rain blows sideways hitting me off the cheeks and chin. The beach sand skitters by thick as desert sidewinders. Sometimes it wafts off the ground as if smoke or the healing spirit dust shaman blow out of conch shells.

I pass the aquarium and wave to Monsieur Bones, the dead whale suspended from its ceiling cables, and the Coke machine guarding the building’s fa├žade. The Martian glow of the Coke machine is the only nearby light. The rest of the promenade is veiled in midnight shadow. Not a flicker within the bed and breakfasts, Shilohs, or any of the other shops. The Lewis and Clarke statue peers off ambivalent to morning’s tardiness. The general store, the gourmet coffee house, and the rows of kitsch shops fade into one long blur. The door to Pig and Pancake is set ajar and I see a few lone pokes perusing menus in flashlight. I truck on. Cross the street to Dundee’s Donuts where I hope to grab a fresh one and a cup of joe. Their sign says open daily from 7 to 7. My watch reads 9:01AM. So I pull open the door and as if I put my head into a giant beluga. Somebody mumbles. Sounds like the Wizard of Oz slowspeed.

“Donut.” It’s the only thing I can think of and he throws me a donut back, but his sounds more like a question. My eyes begin to adjust. I can make the feint traces of a booth. Chipped corners betray the once unmarred wood. I can now smell the barista’s breath, redolent of clam chowder and Ricola. He flicks on his lighter. The wisping flame reveals a naked lady in red cowboy boots. The barista’s thumbnail has a thin gash and he points to cellophane-wrapped paper plates sporting day old glazed. I’m desperate. I’d eat through cellophane if I couldn’t shear it off, but this barista is chummy and hellbent on sharing his humblest apologies why he cannot offer me fresh-made frosties and Boston cremes. I nod not knowing what else to do. Can’t this guy hear my stomach growling? He knows I don’t come from around here. I lie and say I’m from Kansas City.

“Funny you don’t like you’re from Kansas City,” he says.

“I move around a lot,”

As I close in on the coffee pot he invites me to the other shop’s side. Dundees is also a bar and connects to the donut shop and I admit this makes me snicker in a puerile way. I’m craving my first lick of caffeine. My eyes have adjusted again and now I can see that there are ketchup packets and crayons in each little basket on each table booth. The Best Western I’m staying at also serves baskets of crayons, but no bread. I’m dying for a chocoholic bite of readymade frosting. And just then my barista’s cell phone goes off— “I’ve got two tickets to paradise.” I’ll take just one. The barista walks to the bar side leaving me to fend for myself and course there are no cups. He is gone for two minutes too long and I test drip the coffee. It’s really not that hot— a paltry few degrees above lukewarm— so I decide, against better judgment, to bend my head under the spout. The first spritz smarts my tongue. All these hot showers I’ve been taking haven’t prepped me for this moment nor have the super-nuked hot pockets I’ve scarfed down. It’s not that I’ve never burnt my tongue or the roof of my mouth. Everything tastes like a potato for days, but this is different. I am strangely drawn to this ungodly scalding as if to kill all the nips of bacteria glommed to the bumps of my tongue. Not my brightest hour. Big fat watermelon-sized coffee beans shoot off. My synapses go from zero to seventy in eight seconds flat.

I don’t hang around for the barista, but I leave behind two dollars for less than a Dixie’s cup worth of java juice.

Nine-fifteen and the first crack of light stirs in the sky.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't Think Shamu Think Monsieur Bones


One of my favorite writers, Haruki Murakami, has a novel called A Wild Sheep Chase in which the protagonist reminisces about seeing a whale penis at the aquarium. His town's seaside museum didn't have the wherewithal to house the whole whale so they only displayed the penis. The young man describes an inscrutable loneliness recalling that occasion.

I had the great pleasure of visiting the rink dink aquarium on the promenade this morning. The sideways rain didn't disappoint. By the time I made it to my point of interest I was soaked. Big deal I would get a chance to dry off inside. The stink of blubber was brutal, a crazy melange of cloying sweet musk like I was held captive in a three-week old pot of Chinese sweet and sour sauce. There was no live whale in this museum, but an old hanging skeleton. This was no Shamu though it was a killer whale by classification.

The place looked like one big petshop. Nothing like the Coney Island I remembered from my youth. I decided it was too much for me to take so I opted to continue on my morning constitutional on the beach. There, perhaps, I would see a live sea monster amidst the waves. In the very least I could count driftwood and kelp.

The Salt Works, Lewis and Clarke's base camp, still needed to get scratched off my itinerary.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speak Soft and Carry a Big Beer


I keep writing prose, but deep down I want to engage my inner poet.

It all comes down to sound, but hell those sounds mean everything. Ever listened to the early Sinatra recordings-- the Columbia years when Axel Stordahl handled the arrangements for the Chairman of the Board. There's a distinct, mature sound after Nelson Riddle worked with Sinatra, Now, of course you might say that Sinatra had changed a bit after those Ava years and while that might be true there was a poetry, cadence, and delivery of those lines that Riddle had brought out of old Blue Eyes. Miles Davis recognized it too.

Where am I going with this you're probably saying? Well, it's simple. I'm listening to the poets. It's one thing to have good lines, it's another thing to deliver them. I also bring in the Sinatra example because he was the first the crooners to really make use of the microphone. A new breed of intimacy arose from the mic that the Broadway belters hadn't yet mastered. I feel it myself when I do a reading and I need break out the old diaphragm. With a mic I can be softer with certain lines, sibilants, fricatives, and the many other sounds in the register. I hate reading from the same sections. I want to be surprised as the crowd might be. But, I've found that when I do this I sometimes out-psych myself and the result is sometimes disasterous.

Preparation is really necessary.

I made a little breakthrough of my own going out of my way slowing down my reading. As a native born New Yorker I have a tendency to race through and into things: streets, taxis, relationships- I really could bore you with the unabridged list. When I read from Shades of Luz at Salvatore's, I had planned to read a longer section, but instead I read a shorter part and tried to nail a different kind of rhythm. I don't think it over all that well. I'm always amazed at what parts people laugh at and at what parts they don't. It seems they aren't laughing at the parts that I deem funny. When they do laugh it doesn't make intuitive sense to me so therefore I conclude they must be laughing at me. Joy of any kind is welcome in any entertainment biz- frankly there isn't enough of the stuff in this world, but self-flogging can take its toll on you if you aren't careful.

I end my set with a humdrum bowl of nuts and crunchies and a tall glass of Black Butte Porter.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beach Books


Met Karen the owner of Beach Books in Seaside Oregon today. There was a neat little reception with replete with acoustic guitar, wine, cheese, crackers, and chopped veggies with dip. Personally, I would have some Oregonian vino on hand instead of the lackluster Cavitt Pinot Grigio, but that's just me.

I was pleased with the wide selection of books for such a kitschy beach community. I thumbed through Gerald Stern's Last Blue before making a formal introduction to the proprietor of the shop. She seemed genuinely sweet while maintaining a virulent Emily Post's hosting composure.

Beach Books might pick up Shades of Luz. I won't hold my breath. Small bookshop receptions have a high school chess club formality until the second or third bottle of wine gets uncorked. I wouldn't call it stuffy, but when you get a number of bookish people in a room what do you exactly expect.

This is, no doubt, why the best readings have moved to taverns and pubs. How could you not have fun in the dim-lit lovechild of the speakeasy.

Nothing much else to report today except that I plan to see the hanging whale in the aquarium tomorrow.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Have A Little Faith


Here’s the other side of going out of town. Sometimes you need to do what the locals do. If you know anything about me you know I’d rather be shacked up with a good book. Yesterday, I went to mass, a rare fete for me, but then on top of that I was selected to bring up the collection plate. Three other men were tagged with the same responsibility or penance (depending upon how you look at it).

Nobody asked if I had a proclivity for pickpocketing. As far as the parish was concerned, I was fresh meat ready and willing to help out like a god Christian soldier, a Minute Man for donations.

There was no Shibboleth to pass and no sponsor necessary. All I needed was the dutiful, perhaps sheep-hearted willingness to schlep through the pews and shove a five-foot basket-woven collection plate under the chins of bubble-eyed parishioners. If that wasn’t reward enough then I don’t know what would be. After the first few shoves I garnered a certain knack for bilking my brethren. Nothing pious about it. I envisioned myself more as a religious meter maid not nearly as worthy as the offertory elite who got to bring up the cruets of wine and the plate of bread. No, my part was miniscule when it came to participating in the lead-in to the miracle of transubstantiation.

On the other hand, my money-grubbing, took care of those other important incidentals: the heat, gas, cable bills, and the London Broil and tatter tots the clothed men in the rectory fed off.

Halfway to the altar, a blue-haired old woman was sitting smack in the middle of the side pew. I tripped over the kneeler to get to the untouchable. She wore a heather-colored hand-crocheted scarf around her neck and wire-rimmed glasses to the very tip of her powdered nose. If she wasn’t a born again Christian then she was, in the very least, a contemporary of the stained glass window a few feet next to her. She made me get right beside her. I took the collection by the neck so as not to jab it into her and she clutched my wrist.

“Are you having one or two collections today?” she said with all the pomp of a lifelong diner waitress.

I heard it as how many lumps (as in sugar) one or two. I guess this is why she shook my wrist and I told her there was only one collection for today.

“Just a minute then,” she said.

She tossed in two envelopes. I went on my merry way. When I got to the last row the hairy-nosed gentleman who pulled me aside to help out in the collection told me to dump the plate into the big basket in the back. But, to grab the plate again during the final announcement before mass ended.

“What?” I said.

“Yeah, there’s a second collection for the earthquake victims in Haiti.”
Now he tells me. I sat back down and pulled out my copy of Shades of Luz hidden under my Missalette. I had to do a reading that evening and I was going to prep for it at one of the local watering holes.

I kept my hands in my pockets for the saying of the peace. Didn’t want any unbidden germs. When it came time to go up for the collection I made my rounds. Not surprisingly, there weren’t as many folks contributing for this encore donation. Still, there was a pretty good amount of generosity. When I arrived at my blue-haired friend she had a fierce look about her as if I had hustled her out of her bingo money.

“You said there was only one collection today,” she said.

“I ah— I thought there was.”

“I want the second envelope to go to Haiti.”

“And it sure will,” I said.

“How the hell do you know that for sure?” she said.

I made quick use of my peripheral vision. I gave her a flavorless smile. Nobody seemed to have seen her cursing at me, but I wasn’t sure.

“Look, I’ll personally go through the basket and make sure your second envelope goes to Haiti.”

“Good luck. Neither is marked any different.”

“Isn’t the date on the envelope?”

“No.”

And with the precision of her punctuation I knew this wasn’t good. Nimrod marked on my forehead. I felt like Matthew Gray who was lambasted in third grade for chewing on his Communion wafer. “Hold, hold, hold it on your tongue,” Bishop Denning said. After that, Matthew was known as Cookie Monster. We were dumb kids then.

When mass had ended, I didn’t exactly go forth in peace. I was stressed. The reading, later that night, didn’t sit well with me. I would have walked right on by blue-hair but I would have to knee her in the gut to do so. The aisle was clogged with handshakers and huggers. She stared at the cover of my novel and seemed to be working out some sort of algebra in her head.

“What kind of book is that?” she asked.

“It’s a novel,” I said.

“Is it any good?”

“It’s interesting. A little bit strange.”

“I like strange.”

So did I but I wasn’t planning on getting into a strange interlude here. I couldn’t help but have a Rose scenario pop in the mind. Benny would shoot the breeze with this woman, but I wasn’t Benny. I didn’t feel like letting her know I was the author.
She took the book out of my hand and opened to a random page.

“Never heard of this Gorman.”

“Me neither,” I said.

“Then who gave you the book?”

“Just a friend.”

We then had one of those long oily pauses, the tease of getting to know you.

“Here, why don’t you have it,” I said.

I walked off without a thank you and headed to the nearest saloon. I had no intention of heading back to my room for a fresh copy. If nobody in the audience brought Shades of Luz that night I guess I would just recite bad poetry.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Friends & Followers

Before I go about giving any Shades of Luz updates I’d first like to thank writer/ media pro Bridget Hopper for letting me join her Friends and Followers on Book Blogs. Bridget you seem to be a real dynamo and a coalition-builder and that works for me.

The beauty about social-networking is that gives you marketing leverage that would have required any army-sized staff in the pre-blogger days. Nobody really can accurately quantify the net returns on all the networking being done, but it sure can’t hurt building a readership. Wouldn’t you agree?

As for me, I am now in the gorgeous coastal town Seaside in Oregon finally tying the knot on my MFA in Creative Writing at Pacific University. To say that I’ve kicked up my writing quality a mucho-notch is not only an understatement, but s downright lie. I will now try the herculean juggling task of prepping my critical introduction spiel and my scheduled reading, keep the buzz going with Shades of Luz, and also make headway on an A-1 top-secret writing project. More news to follow.

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Batch of Fiction

I want to make it clear that I will be writing a fresh batch of fiction this year, but much of the fodder for this prose will come from non-fiction. Is that a surprise for you? Don’t let it be. I have always been drawn to news, slice of life sketches, scientific journals, biographies, and a myriad of other non-fictional sources for my stories. I don’t think this makes me unique, but I am aware of what makes my creative bulb switch on.

I’ve armed myself with a stack of newspapers and a pair of scissors. I really do like to clip out interesting stories, quotes and so on. I can come back to them at later times. I’ve read that Newt Gingrich was a fan of this archival approach as a young chap. I don’t know how that makes me feel knowing that we have shared a collective collating strategy, but it is what it is.

I also plan on doing some essays based on childhood, short-run flavorless jobs, political essays, and many more extended wine notes. I think I am going this way for two reasons. 1) Because a number of people, close to me, who have read Shades of Luz think that is a memoir. 2) I think I have a knack for writing essays and I want to blur the boundary that has come to be known as creative non-fiction.

Well, I want to first answer that point about some people close to me who think that Shades of Luz is a memoir. It most certainly is not although I did, for a short while, sell stuffed animals on the street. That was a wacky experience if ever there was one. I probably should go into greater detail about that time and perhaps this year I will. It might help me to know if something new about myself. No promises. Worst case scenario, it will make an interesting writing exercise.

I also plan to do more flash fiction writing (microfiction)— more pieces under 750 words. There is great beauty in toned prose where all the gristle is trimmed away and all you have is the true grit of the writer’s soul.

P.S. I welcome any comparisons to T.C Boyle, Stuart Dybek, and Chekhov.