Category Archives: Writing

The Process

The set
The set

For some reason I like to creatively torment myself, or more accurately torment myself with creativity – you know, honor the masochist within. Such is the case with the story behind Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts: a murder-mystery concocted for a dinner-theater/fundraiser done for the Peak Foundation. Warning: this non-profit peddles the crack-cocaine of theater to neophytes, and they do it well. The idea for BB & B arose after my first visit to the corner of Stage and Script. I was told it was a dangerous neighborhood; I didn’t heed the warning.

That first visit occurred last summer during Briar Rose. I must have hit my head on a rock after

In the Green Room
In the Green Room

diving head first into that project, because I got the idea to write and direct a creation of my own. After consulting with Laura, the head-mistress at Peak, the green light was given. A date and venue was set.

And then I waited. The clock ticked, the calendar turned. The general idea slipped through my brain folds, but the details eluded me. I didn’t panic, I procrastinated. I told myself I could start the script around Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving came, the ideas didn’t. It’s part of the process. The subconscious needs to percolate, I reminded myself. I’ve been there before, but experience does not alleviate the terror of trying to think and nothing happening.

One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.
One of the surprises, Kristi Thissle as Silent Sam.

In early December the water’s muddied when Tammy and I brainstormed and idea for a completely random

Tristan and Jayman, our techies.
Tristan and Jayman, our techies.

ending where even the actors wouldn’t know who was the perpetrator. Great idea, if cast members were masters of improv. Considering there wasn’t a cast, the idea was shelved. Or was it? It led to an important plot device.  I glowed in the false confidence of direction, but I still couldn’t put pen to paper.

Days turned to weeks. When questioned about the progress of the script, I lied. I didn’t want anyone else sharing the angst. In my darkest moments, I almost called Laura to beg for cancellation. As far as I knew, only her, my wife, and a handful of potential cast members knew of the planned show and audition dates. It wasn’t too late to wiggle out of the obligation without much humiliation.

As Christmas approached my to resistance to writing the script continued, until Monday December 22nd at 10:16 PM when I created a word document. A minute later magic happened. I would be remiss not admitting I had characters in mind. Madam Marcy, Lottie the Librarian (Who’s original name was Linda), Dudley Do-nothing, Winston Haigstrom (Haigstrom’s original first name was Walter – it may have been changed to obscure the character’s inspiration), and Reverend Righteous were written with local talent in mind. Silent Sam was a gift from the muse, in the original matrix of characters, he didn’t exist. Silent Sam snuck into the script much as he did onto the stage – his laugh announcing his presence. After two weeks of burning midnight oil a workable script was in hand.

The Station Agent... aka The Narrator
The Station Agent… aka The Narrator

You can read the first act here. Please heed the Script Nazi’s admonition: “No second act for you!” You wouldn’t want to know

Final Preparations on Opening Day.
Final Preparations on Opening Day.

who the murderer was anyway.

With a deep breath, I hid my insecurities and stepped into a role in which I had zero experience – directing. Yes, I’ve done the gunfights, but that’s street theater – street theater doesn’t count. Years of hockey and firefighting coaching gave me the confidence, while osmosis and pilfering the toolboxes of Briar Rose’s brain-trust provided the distinctions.

safe_imageAs audition night approached I was plagued with new worries. What if no one showed up? What if too many people tried out? It turned out that an expected body took a powder and two unexpected souls materialized. The arrival of the expected was accompanied with relief, in the absentees’ place stomach knots arose, and the unforeseen brought possibility. After auditions there was one role to fill, and though I didn’t want to act, I was prepared to step into the narrator role. After a barrage of emails and phone calls, Dudley Do-nothing’s real life wife stepped up. The cast was complete. I could concentrate on directing… and concocting a title. Notice the audition poster? No title. When I was grilled, Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts flew out of my mouth, 10937465_833140336742148_1251811676_nbut I digress.

Dudley and Reverend Righteous
Dudley and Reverend Righteous

With the arrival of the first rehearsal came the first surprise. No Reverend Righteous. Facebook messages flew trying to track down the slippery seminarian. Where could he be? His alter-ego Matt Sibert is a dependable fellow. A picture of a nearly severed thumb arrived in my inbox. It appeared the reverend suffered an industrial accident. Not one to be sidelined by a ‘flesh wound’, Matt served double duty as the show’s special effects wizard. That he made an old railroad depot shake with the rumble of an approaching train and lit up a dark room with the lights of locomotives past was testament of his ability to bring words to life.

From the second rehearsal forward the production enjoyed cast integrity. With each passing rehearsal the bond between cast members deepened as they worked through blocking and script tweaks. Soon they were no longer seven people learning places and lines, but channels for characters struggling to emerge. Practice after practice character traits emerged. Though it was happening, their transformation was a work-in-progress.

Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.
Kris Gregory transforming into Madam Marcy.

Then a week before opening night, on a Thursday night, we hit our biggest bump. A

The next viral T-shirt?
The next viral T-shirt? Insult your friends with Lottie’s scandalous line; “Shut your cock holster!”

scheduling conflict with the venue left us high and dry mid-rehearsal. We were getting there, put I wasn’t comfortable where we were stood, especially loosing a run-through and an after-action review. After coarse venting on my part towards the powers-that-be, the cast agreed to an additional sacrifice – an extra night of rehearsals. We piggy-backed a Sunday night rehearsal onto the scheduled Monday night rehearsal to make up for lost time, and that’s when the real magic happened. Four run-throughs in a twenty-four hour period transformed their performance from gritty to artistry.

I’m sure some of that had to do with costuming. That’s where my wife stepped in, created her little shop of horrors, waved her

Tammy the artist.
Tammy the artist.

magic wand, and exercised the remainder of the characters from their hosts. The pictures reveal the mastery of her art. Tammy was also instrumental in transforming the normally sterile confines of the Alberton Community Center into cozy-confines for dinner theater.

Lottie the Librarian
Lottie the Librarian

Brooke Barnett, who played Lottie, doubled as the photographer. As you can see, she is a renascence woman. Actress, photographer, and the writer of our town’s coming summer production.

The PEAK Foundation can’t be thanked enough for their will, talents, and vision to bring the arts to a small mountain town in Montana. Without the organization the memories

Cast and crew
Cast and crew

created for the cast, crew, and most importantly, the supporters and fans who sold-out two shows, wouldn’t be possible. I had the easiest job, all I had to do was spin words and share a vision, the rest was up to the wizards who conjured them into reality. It’s the greatest thrill and honor a writer can have.

.

Advertisements

The Council Table

This post is taken from novelist’s Ang. MacDonald’s Blog. It’s her take on our quirky writer’s group. For the writers in the audience, it’s my feeling one would do your craft well if you could find such an eclectic circle to join.

Epic Hatred

untitled (4)
Silky Johnson sends his best.

I was flipping through television channels the other day and I stumbled across shows entitled: Epic Pools; Epic Homes; Epic Vacations; and an infomercial bearing the name Twenty-nine Ways to Grow an Epic Garden. My head started to fizzle like Alka-Seltzer and I’m pretty sure the remote left my hand like a missile that targeted the TV.  Before I knew it, I found myself running across the room while intoning an epic rant. In mid sentence, I took an epic leap out an open window, which I later realized was manufactured by Epic Windows. Luckily for me, it was a first floor window and I ended up brushing myself off and looking around to see if anybody witnessed my epic moment of insanity. I’m sure by now you’ve figured out what set me off. Each usage sounds like a mix of ten thousand lap dogs yapping in the purses of  Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, who are both PMSing and  trying to screech over each other while Techno music is pulsing at ear shattering decibels. Every time I hear the word I’m tempted to stick a ball-gag into the offender’s mouth and give them the honor of being the first victim of my Epic Inquisition.

Thinking I couldn’t be the only one who curls up into a little ball of miserable human flesh every time I hear the insanely overused adjective, I inquired with the high authority of modern word usage, Urban Dictionary.com and was delighted in what I found. Taken verbatim from their hallowed tome:

Epic Inquisition Launched!
Epic Inquisition Launched!

Epic:  “A word, whose meaningful definition(s)and correct applications are now obscured and have been raped to death mostly by the 25 and under crowd. It has been overused as ‘the’ catch phrase used to describe a situation, person, event, movie, taking a shit, etc. The abuse and birth as a catchphrase has its origins among avid gamers and pretentious English majors. There are too many ‘epic’ examples to count, just go walk onto a college campus and listen closely.”

My favorite Epic.
My favorite Epic.

Ah, at last, I have someone to blame for my Epic Headache. To be honest, I felt guilty blaming the word, it was like blaming the victim of a crime. After all, it’s a pleasant little word meant to describe a Tolstoy novel or a Charlton Heston movie, it wasn’t designed to make a human being bristle like a preacher in a whorehouse. It was minding its own business with no intention of replacing any other four letter words until the light bulb clicked on in some languagesta’s head.

Now that I have a target for my outrage, unimaginative linguistic bandwagon jumpers take note: Keep on naming your companies Epic This or Epic That; keep on saying that every ballgame is its own epic saga. For crying out loud, the word has jumped the shark. It’s over, like your careers should be. Authors, Writers or Reviewers who abuse the word, realize you’re trying to catch a train that has already left the station, you’d earn more respect from me if you were a Wal-Mart greeter. Finally, people in my life who insist on abusing the sweet little four letter word

I will neither confirm or deny that this was my TV.
I will neither confirm or deny that this was my TV.

be warned that every time you say or type it, know that I’m thinking you’re the equivalent of the fat, pimple faced kid who sharted in gym class and is clenching to keep the rest of us from seeing the evidence.  Before you get that wild grin and start sharpening your fingernails in preparation of running that four-letter bomb down the proverbial chalk board, allow me invoke the words of word-class hater Silky Johnson, aka. Dave Chappelle, “I hope that all the bad things in life happen to you and nobody else but you.”

Now that I got that off my chest, does anybody know where I can get a cheap flat screen?

100 Days… More or Less

untitled (7)

Lately I’ve been pondering life’s imponderables, and recently found myself paying heed to an activity which the average person spends approximately one hundred to one hundred sixty odd days of their life engaged, and quite involuntarily as a matter-of-fact, there’s no choice in the matter. That’s more than enough time to slog through War and Peace or Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search in of  Lost Time’ or if you’re adventurous, maybe both. Hell, if you’re a warrior maybe you could throw in James Joyce, because in my opinion, Finnegans Wake is the cure for constipation. That’s right sports fans, while driving the other day I found myself doing the math and figuring out how long the average person spends answering the call of nature, and I’m talking about the Number Two Son.

You’re probably asking why would anyone be inclined to think of such subjects. My answer is that engineering firms are paid $Billions to make sure we don’t give poop a second

Me being a Turd in a Punch Bowl.
Me being a Turd in a Punch Bowl.

thought.  Not to mention that I don’t listen to a radio when I drive and that allows my mind to go into uncharted territory. Driving is my alone time, I often think of plots, characters, and events when I’m behind the wheel; it’s kind of like time travel, because when I get lost in thought the next thing I know I’m at my destination without remembering most of the drive. If you have ever driven past me, it explains my spaced out look. But I’m rambling, lets get back to the subject at hand.

So, how did I come up with such a number? I know there are theoretical physicists waiting with bated breath for my answer. Here is Zunstein’s theorem of Scatology:  A * BMY / H *HPA * ALS / 24 = DSP    I know it doesn’t look impressive to many of you, but for a mathematical retard such as myself this is a breakthrough accomplishment, especially considering I did it in my head and without the aid of a calculator. Long drives in the mountains certainly produce miracles. Heck, one drive produced the word Karmamyalgia – whose meaning will be explained in my upcoming work Montana Rural.

Shit Happens!
Are you a poser?

Here’s the formulaic primer:

A = Average Time Spent on Hopper.  For the sake of argument and simplicity, I will use five (5) minutes a session as a baseline.

BMY = Bowel Movements per Year.  Again a major variable, but, I have to start somewhere, so I chose four hundred (400).  It allows for both good and bad days and those in between.

H = sixty (60), for minutes to hours conversion.

HPA = Hours Per Annum spend pondering on throne.

ALS = Average Life Span. Another Variable, for this example I’m using 80 years.

Twenty-four (24) = A number between Twenty-three (23)  and  Twenty-five (25), used for the number of hours in a day.

DSP = The magic number: Days spent pooping.

Placing these assumptions into the formula, I will walk you through the process and allow you to see how much time you’re devoting to literature, posing like a Greek statue,  and/or other pursuits of pondering.5 * 400 = 2000    2000 minutes a year doing the act.   Divide 2000 by 60 to determine the hours a year you’re spending to keep air-freshener companies in business.  By my math the answer is 33.33 hours.

33.3 hours multiplied by 80 =2664 hours in a life time.  That a year’s worth of full-time labor plus a healthy dose of overtime.   Divide that total by twenty-four to convert hours into days.   Again by my math, and for this example, the person in question spent one hundred ten (110) days on the hopper. I know people who haven’t taken 110 days vacation in their life. I’ve also known people who haven’t worked that many days. If you’re looking to catch up on your reading and want or dive into the classics, just add two minutes a session and by ZTS (Zunstein’s Theorem of Scatology) you can increase your DSP to one hundred fifty-five.

The image I saw in my bathroom floor's linoleum.
The image I saw in my bathroom floor’s linoleum.

Don’t feel that time spent is limited to reading. Other skills are waiting to be developed. Just last month I improved my observational skills by noticing a face in the linoleum floor at the foot of my throne. (I really didn’t see Hitler in bunny ears, but as of this writing I misplaced my camera and the pictures of the coy phantasm.) When I told my wife this, she suggested that I see a psychiatrist. I almost took her up on the offer, but not for the reason you may think,  it was more of the creep out factor from not noticing a face staring at me for the better part of ten years. She still claims not to see it. I think she’s in denial. She says that a creative mind lingers on a precipice. I just shrug my shoulders; she’s taught me that arguments such as these are unwinnable.

By cutting just one minute a session, you could make time for an African Safari!
By cutting just one minute a session, you could make time for an African Safari!

On the other hand, if you’re stressed out and don’t think there’s enough time to do your honey-do list or whatever chore that is torturing your thoughts, just cut a minute from your bathroom time and add twenty-two days to your life. Just think of the possibilities! You could go to Hawaii, explore Alaska, or go on an African Safari just by eliminating one minute of elimination time. The world is your oyster, just be careful shucking.

NERDS! a treatise on a gaggle of geeks.

NERDS! Who doesn’t love them, hell, I was the biggest nerd ever -my wife says I still am. I got this awesome picture from Deadspin.com and I couldn’t resist sharing it on Facebook with commentary. Then I realized Facebook didn’t offer the space required to do the in-depth analysis this picture deserves.  For me, it will go down as the single best photo of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, if not the best sporting picture of the year. If you haven’t figured it out, it’s of the Harvard Band. Their joy was captured during March 21st’s Crimson’s upset win over New Mexico. Warning! If you’re sensitive to fun being poked at rich white and Asian kids, go away.

First it’s obvious that the band is the team’s best weapon, and the reason Harvard was invited to the big dance in the first place; the fact is, the band’s mere presence distracts opposing teams so much that they can’t concentrate on their game. It would take a team loaded with narcissists,  or a team who grew up in Nerd infested environments and thus have a natural immunity, not to be distracted by this motley collection of Poindexters. Unfortunately for Harvard, most teams at this level of competition are indeed the former.   Notice I’m trying to sound intelligent, so that any Crimson student or alum who happens to stumble upon this blog would be impressed and not sneer and dub me a heathen. Enough of this ridiculous preamble, let’s get on with our in-depth analysis.901402_10152674904895072_636020931_o

The first person that deserves mention, other than Lewis, the joyous band leader, who is politely clapping in honor of his team’s momentous achievement is the member on the upper right with his hands atop his head. He doesn’t look happy, as a matter of fact, he seems distraught – as if he has bet his future stock options against the Crimson or he procrastinated in completing his dissertation on the bet they would be back at Harvard by Friday night in time to cram all weekend. Whatever the case, he seems to be in the initial stage of panic and is considering relocating to San Jose and becoming a mid-level manager for a high tech firm.

Next to Lewis, we have Poindexter who in his excitement pitched his violin and is doing the Macarena. Cymbal Girl, now she’s intriguing, I can’t tell if she is going to climb the ladder at the FBI or if she’s a serial killer. She’s not celebrating the victory as much as revealing in her opponent’s misery.   The kid to Cymbal Girl’s right is an athlete, but not good enough to make the team, even at Harvard, his reaction indicates a rich fantasy life in which he’s just sunk the winning basket.

The gal in the second row waving her fist is activism personified. And tonight her spiel is painful for New Mexico, because she’s about to say: “Not only are we smarter than you, we just kicked your ass.”  The fat trumpet player next to her seems to be the love child of John Candy and Truman Capote, I’m happy that his team’s fate isn’t depended on him sinking a free-throw with no time left. Next to Truman Candy we have a leader, only I can’t tell if she’s the winner of the next papal conclave or if she’s taking over the North Jersey Mob. Whatever the case, she’s internalizing the moment and will use it against someone, someday, somehow. The redheaded guy next to Pope Soprano, he’s the underachiever; he could be the smartest one of the lot, but he has the least confidence and will end up drinking himself to death, become a novelist, or both.  Asian guy next to Ernest Harvardway is simply happy, he will probably produce an algorithm unlocking the secret to attaining that blissful state.

Third row, second from left looks like Lurch with a brain. Big enough, but not coordinated to play round ball.  The guy next to Lurch is in a way the most intriguing: The lack of emotion indicates he is a deep thinker, and eternally inspired by what he sees, so much so that in watching the course of the basketball during game he began theorizing the effects of a black hole’s gravitational implication on spherical objects. If the game were to have gone on another two minutes he would have completed the Unified Theorem, but the game ended and the crowd’s outburst derailed his train of thought and now a great moment in science was ruined by a bunch of guys in shorts chasing a ball.

And then there’s the flute girl. Potentially the most complicated of the lot. She’s wearing black and a hat, so immediately the band even considers her an oddball. If her hair is an indication, her brain is boiling and is a time bomb ready to go off. That she plays the flute is symbolic of something. Her expression says that her team’s victory grants external validation to complex, tangled emotions that Freud wouldn’t tackle and Dickens couldn’t write about. It is my opinion she should lose the hat and allow some pressure to vent before her head explodes.

For those in the band that I didn’t mention, congratulations, because this means you will slip into the life of a multi-millionaire almost unnoticed and with little fan-fare, you are the king makers and truly hold the next generation’s power.

A word or two about those not in the band, but had their suffering sitting behind this Gaggle of Geeks digitally captured – wrong place at the wrong time people.

The African-American guy on the left, well, South Park has Token. The lady in the teal is looking at herself on the megatron and thinking: Do I look fat?    The redhead is thinking: I’m going to keep my kids watching the Kardashians, I don’t want them to grow up and be as embarrassing as these nerds, I mean, who wears jackets and ties to a basketball game?  The Cougar thought she was in Candy Land when she heard she got seats behind the band, but then she realized what band it was and had to settle for the ex-jock in red sweat-suit next to her.  The ex-jock is haunted by Bruce Springsteen’s Glory Days playing over and over in his head.

In a seriousness, what a great picture. Congratulations on your moment of joy. It allows a fool like me to take an hour and create stories. It was almost as much fun as being there. Band members, if you ever vacation to my little corner of Montana, look me up, I’d be honored to buy you a beer… ah, I mean a cocktail.

Montana Rural Sneak Preview

images (10)This post could very easily be an addition to The Barroom Chronicles, except that this is a fictional story, even though the Humming images (10)

Bartender may or may not be inspired by someone who is destined to receive his own episode of the nonfiction series. The voice is James Morrison, the narrator of Cemetery Street. Montana Rural is the continuation of his story. Enjoy this sneak preview of my work in progress, Montana Rural.

By the time we reached the bed and breakfast all I wanted was sleep, but my father insisted on buying me a beer. The three of us trudged down the street and slipped inside the semi-crowded bar. We plopped ourselves around a small table and within moments we were accosted by a humming bartender with an alien tattooed on his neck. “Hmmmm…  Welcohmmmm to Boyd and Chadwick’s, where the beer’s warm and glasses are dirty, tonight’s special is if you don’t like it you can shut the fuck up! Hmmmm… What can I get you? Hmmmm?” he asked.

Diane and my father looked at each other and I tried not to laugh. I had firsthand knowledge of Reginald’s antics and until I noticed him when we walked in I never thought of subjecting my guests to his whims. When we hesitated, he said in a fairly good English accent: “Come on now mate, hurry the fuck up, I ‘ave other inmates to attend to.”

Dad and I ordered two beers and Diane ordered a Cosmopolitan.

“Hmmmm, I’ll be right back… Hmmm,” he hummed and shuffled away.

“That was rude,” she commented and then added: “He’s kind of a strange bird.”

“You can’t imagine,” I told her.  “He’s name’s Reginald and he’s a local legend. People come from miles around.”  What had me interested was what kind of drink he would whip up for Diane. I was fairly certain he had never made a Cosmopolitan before and he wouldn’t waste his time looking it up; he was known for throwing concoctions together and demanding that you finish it.

A few minutes later he returned with our round. “Hmmmm  Two Beers and a Cosmo – politan.” He somehow managed to switch accents from gay to English between syllables.

Diane looked from her drink, which almost glowed neon green, back to the bartender.  “Ummm, this isn’t a Cosmopolitan.”

“Hmmmm… What do you mean? It’s good enough to be on the cover of any magazine. If you don’t like it, take it to the compliant department.” He pointed to the front door where a Compliant Department sign hung over the doorway.  “Now if you’ll be kind enough to pay me eight dollars I won’t complain. Hmmmm”

My father handed him a ten and told him to keep the change.

“Hmmmm… Blessed plenty,” Reginald said in a southern accent before humming and shuffling off.

“Wow,” Diane said watching Reginald again switch gears attending to someone else.

“The best part is that he believes he was abducted,” I said.

“By?” My father asked.

“Aliens.”

“Wow,” Diane repeated before turning her attention to her cocktail. “I’m afraid to drink it.”

“And you thought there wasn’t any culture in the sticks.  You wouldn’t find someone like that in a city,” I said.

The both of us watched as Diane sipped her drink. “It’s not bad.” She couldn’t contain her fascination with the bartender as he bounced about.  It wasn’t long before he came back to the table to check on us: “Hmmmm… ’ow’s your drink m’lady?”

“Good, what’s in it?” Diane asked.

“You like it? Hmmmm.”

Diane nodded.

“That’s good, because it’s Alien Piss with a pinch of Spanish Fly…  Someone will be busy tonight. Now if you’ll excuse me… Hmmm” He clapped twice, pirouetted one-hundred eighty degrees and shuffled off.

I sniggered.

“He’s unreal,” Diane said half-amused, half-insulted.

When we turned in for the night, I couldn’t help burry my head under the pillows. Just in case Reginald wasn’t lying and he did spike her drink, I wasn’t sure how thick the walls were and I didn’t want to hear the results.

A Saturday in November

IimagesCAUB7MP3t was a raw afternoon, the hint of cold rain in the air.  A perfect setting for a football game, hands wrapped around a cup of steaming hot chocolate, maybe spiked with a spirit, maybe topped with marshmallows. Hardly the perfect weather for an outdoor wedding. But this wasn’t an ordinary wedding, no, this one possessed a different energy; it was draped in pall of sadness,  adorned with dignity and laced with poignancy. It is and will be the inspiration for many bittersweet  smiles.

The couple approached me early summer about officiating their wedding, they set the date for the anniversary of the day they first met.  They wanted a 70’s themed wedding,  they wanted ‘Ozzy Osborne’ to officiate and they wished for a fun ceremony.   When I let my hair down, don the right glasses and wear the imagesCA4G9F3Wproper costume, I resemble a younger Ozzy.

Two weeks later, the groom was diagnosed with brain cancer and given less than a year to live.

Through his deteriorating health the couple insisted that they wanted to go through with the ceremony. Practically, it made no sense, the bride would be taking on medical debt that she wasn’t on the hook for, but, this wasn’t about practicalities, this was about spirit, about the immortality of love.

With each passing week, one wondered if there would be a wedding, despite numerous medical procedures the cancer progressed. On a personal note, I pondered how to write something that would be lighthearted and not make a mockery of the situation. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t have problem being inappropriate in the appropriate situation, but this was one line I wouldn’t cross. For weeks I fretted about the ceremony, I even lied to the bride saying that I had the ceremony written, gift wrapped and topped with a bow. The truth was I was clueless what to do. It wasn’t till the Wednesday night before the ceremony that inspiration struck. Keeping within the theme and mindful not to go over the top, the muse gifted me a story told in the titles of 70’s songs.

In the mean time, other logistical challenges arose, the venue cancelled,  so it was decided to hold the imagesCAXFVN7Wwedding at the bar.  A second problem arose, the weather, minutes before the ceremony a cold November rain set in,  it was decided in the interest of the groom to hold the ceremony inside.  The only problem, it was the fourth quarter of a tight Griz/Cat football game. In our neck of the woods, it’s the biggest college football game of the year. I’m proud of the fans who didn’t mind the interruption. Grasping the gravity of the situation, not one left, opting to stay for the ceremony.

Unable to stand for any length of time, the groom, joined by his bride, sat a buddy bar tucked against the main bar, while I sat cross-legged on the bar  and conducted the ceremony.  Below is the reading – the story told by song titles.

Dqueenborapream On, become Hot Blooded, get Saturday Night Fever and end up in Hotel California, the New Kid in Town playing That Funky Music with Fat Bottom Girls until the Levee Breaks, but Baba ORielly, One of These Nights, After The Thrill is Gone, you could be in Bad Company, listening to the Piano Man sipping Captain Jack wishing you were Kung Fu Fighting. It’s a Rock and Roll Fantasy, Rollin’ Down The Highway in a Chevy Van caught in a Bohemian Rhapsody. But when The Wheel in the Sky pokes through Smoke on the Water, The Dream Police appear and Draw the Line.

Imagine, like Scenes from an Italian Restaurant, A Blue Collar Man and a Killer Queen, a real Brick House, enjoying American Pie and Sweet Jane. Babe, she says, my Superstar, Child in Time, Take Me Home Tonight, be my Dream Weaver, Take it to the Limit.

Then You Fooled around and Fell in Love. Hush, Highway Star, ‘cause as every Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman knows, Love Hurts. After Communication Breakdown(s), my 19th Nervous Breakdown, through Good Times, Bad Times, I’ve learned to be Cruel to be Kind. Sweet Emotion, it’s Dog and Butterfly, it’s The Stairway to Heaven, but in The Long Run, We Are Family.

Easy, ‘cause All Along the Watchtower, before the Jailbreak and The Boys are back in town, Come Sail Away, Walk this Way with a Lady, sip a Tequila Sunrise and enjoy a Peaceful, Easy Feeling, and savor thesunset Best of Times.

On a Saturday in December, we’ll be gathering in the same spot, to celebrate the life of the groom.  Two days after the wedding, he entered hospice, a week later, his bride was widowed.  I get the feeling that even death doesn’t do them part.

When I Grow Up! Guest Post by Heather Huffman

When I Grow Up

I often say that Neena Allen, the main character in my novel Jailbird, is my hero. She has a lot of traits I love: wit, perseverance and resourcefulness to name a few.

In the opening chapters of the book, she finds herself starting a new life with nothing to her name – even the clothes on her back have been swiped from a stranger’s clothesline. When she settles into a sleepy Arkansas town, her only other possession besides those ill-fitting clothes is a pocket knife, which she’s used for everything from cutting her hair to digging up roots to eat.

Neena isn’t the kind of person to worry about what she doesn’t have; she simply does a mental inventory of the situation and what’s around and then turns it into something useful or positive — Kind of like a female MacGyver. A scrappy, Native American MacGyver, anyway.

Neena’s resourcefulness is something I aspire to in my own life, although my attempts seldom work out as well as hers. My chicken coop is a working example of how reality differs from fantasy – it’s made from recycled parts and, while functional, it looks more like modern art than a working coop. I’d include a picture, but I’m getting ready to dismantle the entire thing so I can rebuild it into something that’s both functional and aesthetic. I’m sure the chickens are hoping I succeed; I have my doubts.

Maybe I’ll never reach my character’s level of resourcefulness, but I can still aspire to be just like Neena when I grow up.

 

 

About Heather

Heather was born and spent her early childhood in Florida, but now calls the beautiful state of Missouri home. Her greatest joy, aside from writing, is to hit the road with her three boys for adventure unknown.


Heather is the author of Throwaway, Ties that Bind, Jailbird, Ring of Fire, Suddenly a Spy, Tumbleweed and Devil in Disguise. You can find out more about her writing and charitable work on www.heatherhuffman.net.

Haunted Town

This week’s post could easily be part of The Barroom Chronicles,

The footsteps paused atop the stairs. Whoever, whatever it was could see me, but I couldn’t see it.

but I’ve decided to use it as the first post in a new series I’ll be featuring.  Like the title suggests, it’s about ghosts,  more accurately, it’s about the disproportionate number of ghosts in our humble Montana town.

The subject is prickly for me, even though I have had my fair share of trippy experiences, both in Montana and in my hometown in Pennsylvania, I’ve always been super skeptical of their existence. As much as I would like to believe in them, I’ve always hesitated in admitting believe, but too many occurrences have me coming around to admitting my believe in the creepy critters.

What’s weird for me is that I’ve never seen a ghost, but I’ve witnessed many things that go bump in the night, and in the afternoon too!

Today at work, the subject of ghosts came up again. Not because of a recent sighting in the bar (more on that later in this post) but because two more ghost hunters showed up in town. They didn’t stop in the bar, but I wish they had, I have a few good ghost stories to share.

The owners of  Ghost Rails Inn, the neighboring bed and breakfast also stopped by today and mentioned that this weekend some guests reported another sighting in their room.   One of the owners mentioned that Alberton could be the most haunted town in America.  Sounds like a lofty claim, but on further review, it may have merit.  Considering our town has barely 500 souls, pun intended – that would be the living, breathing type –  it at least could be considered for the most ghosts per capita.

Here are the reported sightings in our fair burg:

Ghost Rails Inn is aptly named, as of this writing, the owners have distinguished three different ghosts, they have seen two. A guest has reported a third, and another guest has reported something even more bizarre – their stories will be shared in later posts.

The Grocery Store – I don’t know anything about this ghost, but I’ve heard the store is haunted. I will talk with the owner and will report his story.

The Railroad Car House –  This is a duplex that is made of old boxcars.  I’m foggy on the details.  Paranormal societies have investigated this house and the Ghost Rails Inn.

The Trailer Court at the edge of town. It’s reported to be haunted by a lady who committed suicide. I don’t know the details.

And last but not least, the home of The Barroom Chronicles and the host to at least one ghost – good ole Sportys…

My first encounter happened in May of 2006, I had just bought the bar and was closing up shop. This encounter was more feeling, that creepy, undeniable sensation that someone is watching. Lets just say the feeling wasn’t subtle, it was in stereo.  It felt as if the old timers were floating near the ceiling checking out the new guy.

Three weeks later, something happened to my dog. It was after hours and I had her with me, I fancied making her a bar dog. As fate would have it, my pager went off (at the time I was a firefighter)  and I responded to an emergency call. When I returned she was a quivering ball of jelly and she had an accident on the floor.  She was four at the time, so she wasn’t a puppy and was housebroken. Although she hasn’t had an accident since, she can’t stand being in the bar.  As soon as she enters she whines and whines. I’ve given up taking her.  I can hear the skeptics: “Big deal, she was freaked because she felt abandoned in a strange place.”  Absolutely possible – maybe even probable.  If it wasn’t for what I’m about to share, I would believe that theory.

Tell me what you see.

May 2007    The palm tree…  A picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look and tell me what you see.  This photo was taken the first night the palm tree was in operation. The person taking the picture was smoking a cigarette. The image was not Photoshopped.  Tell me what you see.   Notice the 20 in the upper right hand corner. I believe that is related to the aforementioned bizarre sighting by a Ghost Rail Inn guest. (I’ll spiel my theory on that in a later post.)

A random Thursday night after closing:  This was my first audio (dare I say haunting) experience.   I had just got the last patron out when I heard a keno machine print a ticket and then footsteps crossed the casino into the Men’s room. The bathroom door slammed shut.

No big deal, I thought.  Somehow,  someone played through last call.  I waited ten minutes and went back to check on the player. I figured he passed out in the bathroom.  Of course nobody was there.  He couldn’t have slipped out any doors, they were all locked.

I’ve since had that experience again.  Earlier this year, another  bartender reported hearing the same thing – twice.

A Saturday morning before opening:  I was taking the garbage out and stopped to open the side door. As I propped the door open, out of the corner of my eye I saw legs walk past me, through the door and into the bar.  I immediately turned around and said: “Excuse me, can I help you?”  There was nobody there.  To this day, I get a chill and goosebumps every time I relate the story.

I’ve never felt scared of our ghost, quite to the contrary, I believe he’s a trickster, there’s always things misplaced and switched around.  I have named him: Kermit, in honor of a patron who passed six months after I purchased the bar.  The real Kermit was a trickster, so the M.O. fits.  I’m not saying it is, but hey, it’s all good.

But the Coup De Grace happened a little over two weeks ago.  A new bartender was working a Friday night shift.  She had closed the bar, gotten everybody out when she heard a keno machine print. She looked back into the casino in time to see the apparition of a bearded man sitting before said keno machine staring at her.  She claims it lasted a few seconds before it faded away.

A couple of days later, she came into the bar and asked: “Why didn’t you tell me about the ghost?”

I just smiled and enjoyed the goosebumps.

Romancing the Memory

If the eyes are the gateway to the soul  

Our memories are its gatekeepers…

So begins a poem that appears in Cemetery Street. Shannie (pronounced Shane-ie) wrote it in James’ birthday card, and like so many things about Shannie, its significance haunts the narrator. So much that he recites the poem before her headstone. Was Shannie inferring that memories are the sentinels of our souls?

Your guess is as good as mine. I claim lack of expertise in the science of memory, but I have written a novel about romancing a memory, so that qualifies me to pontificate about memory’s potential sappy nature.

I have a feeling James isn’t unique and am willing to bet that everyone who reads this post is haunted by memories – good or bad, funny or sad. Double or nothing that you may have even obsessed over one or two. Heck, I may even be guilty of such an offense.

I hear the romantics shouting: “How can you not be guilty?”

Maybe the answer is directly related to how much time one spends in the memory universe and how much energy is expended recalling them. There’s no denying their power, heck, memories define our identity. Isn’t that what Shannie was saying? If it was, in lies their danger.

– Your father cursed and threw things when he cranked on a wrench, so you have an aversion to auto mechanics.

– You got a speeding ticket on Main Street, so every time you pass the location you check your speed and tap the brakes.

– You failed 7th grade English class and believed you could never write.

Suddenly, we’re in danger of being memory’s prisoner. James may be guilty as charged. On the other hand, maybe he’s a victim of circumstance and his obsession is a way not to relive the horror of a lost identity. (Plot hint… Plot hint… Plot hint…)

Here’s what James writes about regaining his memory:
“As I pen these words, I deal with the effects of what happened in the early fall of 1994. I forget things – I’ve learned that a short pencil is better than a long memory – and only come to cherished memories with the help of pictures or scents. Although playing with aromas is playing with fire. Certain smells trigger avalanches of uncontrollable memories: the smell of steak releases an onslaught of memories of my family; brewing coffee frees Shannie; burning leaves remind me of Count; cigar smoke evokes Russell and Main Street; burnt rubber takes me back to Atlantic City. The force of such memories paralyzes me. It’s as if my memories have me. It makes for a distracted lifestyle. Pictures are much safer, they aren’t the frayed edge of an unpredictable memory strand.”

I’m by no means a memory expert, but as you’ve read, I have written about them. In a sense, Cemetery Street is a memoir, but it’s the memoir of a fictional character, with fictional memories. So maybe that makes me an expert in fictional memories.

John, that’s all well and good, but you can’t tell me that Cemetery Street isn’t your memoir.

Well, yes I can. If it was, I would be on serious anti-depressants. I’m not saying there isn’t a memory or two woven into the story’s fabric. But I’m a prankster at heart and like to keep people guessing  what is real and what is made up.

If you haven’t read Cemetery Street you can take a chance on winning a signed paperback copy.

Cemetery Street by John Zunski

Cemetery Street

by John Zunski

Giveaway ends April 01, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Before I forget, this is what Shannie wrote in James’ Birthday card:

If our eyes are the gateway to the soul
Our memories are its gatekeepers
Out of memory comes meaning
Out of meaning – warmth
Out of warmth – Love
Out of Love – Us

Beyond anyone – I remember you.