February 25, 2013

Good Stress

On Saturday, February 16, +David James Keaton  put together a reading and invited me to attend.  I rode down to Louisville with my friend +Rick Schmelz. He’s from the general area, had to stop at his brother’s house anyway, and it had been a while since the two of us had gotten a chance to hang out. We ended up making fantastic time on the way down and arrived at the location early. Though we missed getting the chance to hang out with David and his wife ahead of time, Rick and I were still able to have a couple drinks, grab some food, and talk.

The lovely wife stayed at home and hung out with her friend Vanessa. Maria just wasn’t up to riding in the car for that length of time or being out in public that late. And she knew I needed that day a lot. As much as I did want to meet David and participate in the reading, honestly, simply getting out of the house for a reason other than a doctor’s appointment was something I needed desperately. We’ve had so many issues for the last couple months getting Maria’s prescriptions straightened out after changing therapists. On one hand, that hassle has been worth it. The new therapist is also a nurse and specializes in helping people who are going through some kind of physical health issue, like Maria’s deteriorating eyesight.  But it’s also sent my stress level through the roof. Most of the added headache with her meds has been so unnecessary that that one thing I’ve taken from the entire fiasco is confirmation that our health care system is completely broken, even with insurance.

The reading went well for the most part. I got to meet Dave, his wife, and the other two readers briefly. We arranged the order alphabetical, so I opened and read “Go Away” from Protectors. I think it was well-received. The audience reacted to the parts I wanted them to, and during the break someone tracked me down outside to tell me how much they liked the story. That’s always a good feeling.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stay the entire time. Midnight was Vanessa’s cutoff for hanging out—she had had the flu earlier in the week—and I didn’t want to leave Maria alone too long. I’m glad David invited and I’m doubly glad I went. Besides the chance to put some of my worries aside for half-a-day, I needed to be confronted with the two things I need to work on: reading in front of an audience and working the meet-and-greet. Neither one of those are my strong suits.

That, at least, is good stress.

February 16, 2013

Beautiful Girls

Lately the wife and I have been revisiting a lot of movies we haven’t seen in a while that we both remember liking. Some we own and hadn’t taken off the shelf in years, and others just ended up in the Netflix instant queue as soon as they popped up in the onscreen menus.

It’s been a hit and miss experience. I expected some of it, but a few films have surprised me.

In Ted Demme’s ensemble dramedy Beautiful Girls, Timothy Hutton returns to his small town for his high school reunion. He hangs out with his old buddies and they confront the "crossroads" of their thirties. Back in 1996, I thought it was funny, dramatic, and full of important life lessons. Watching it now—not so much. It’s plotless—random scene, random scene, cue trite and preachy philosophizing, and then repeat. There are too many characters to emotionally invest in any of them. Timothy Hutton’s fixation on the young Natalie Portman now that I’m in my thirties and not just a couple of years older than her is creepy and sad. Michael Rapport’s character is just pathetic. I found Matt Dillon’s hockey jock a little loathsome, his “redemption” weak, and Mira Sorvino should have left his ass and never looked back. 

 The experience has left me wondering, what changed? I saw Beautiful Girls at the theatre and watched the shit out of it when it landed on the campus movie channel. So, is it me? Was the film always bad and I’m only now seeing its flaws? Or does it come down to being able to identify with the characters? I’m not nineteen anymore. I’m in my thirties, have worked through my crossroads, and am in a different place than anyone in that film.

I do think relatability is a part of it. I recently watched Good WillHunting again and found myself still able to identify with the characters, only different ones—Robin Williams appeals to me now much more than Matt Damon. But if it’s just that, then why couldn’t I watch Beautiful Girls and appreciate it from the standpoint of nostalgia? You know, "Ah, the crossroads of life, I remember that time." I mean, John Hughes still works for me and I haven’t been a teenager in almost two decades.

Truthfully, I think it does come down to Beautiful Girls being a poor filmagain, I can't get over the message the Matt Dillon/Mira Sorvino plot sends: Ladies, your man my make you feel like complete shit, shred your self-esteem, impact your body image, and fuck a married woman, but stick around 'cuz things'll work out. But there's still that lingering question in my mind. How do you create something that resonates at 19 and 36?

February 10, 2013

Last Saturday

Last Saturday as it started snowing again, we pulled into the strip mall a couple of blocks south of the square and parked by the all-ages music club and youth center. I finished my cigarette, grabbed the camera, then we both got out and walked around the building into the long alley that stretches from Smith up to 3rd street.

With the wind, it was bitter cold since the buildings funneled most of the chill straight down the alley. Though Friday was still unpleasant, it had warmed up enough to melt most of the old snow, but along the alley there were still drifts and lakes of slush. Even during the summer, not a lot of sun falls back there. It gets lost on the jagged rooftops of the old brick buildings opposite. They’re big crumbling breasts, cryptid survivors from the manufacturing era that you only notice from out of the way places like that. The rest never makes it over The Rise, the transitional apartment housing for impoverished mothers and their families who’ve been victims of severe and sustained domestic violence.

Behind the strip mall, the wife handed me her coat and I draped it over one of the concrete barriers. I readied our camera and she posed against the back wall of the youth center. It’s the only bright spot in the alley. A long canvas splashed with color from one corner to the next—a stream of consciousness graffiti flow. 

She needed the pics for an upcoming model profile. I snapped as many as I could as quick as I could. She was cold and struggling to keep her teeth from chattering. The wind made my fingers hurt. And I had forgotten about the homeless who use the alley to move from one section of town to the next without being hassled.

It isn’t New York, but our little Midwestern town actually has a large homeless population. Part of it is simply the nature of the town—if you’re going to be homeless in Indiana, Bloomington is probably where you’d want to be. Thanks to the University, the town is a liberal fortress surrounded by a sea of red. The community offers a number of shelters and services. Campus provides buildings with 24 hour access and our large public library offers somewhere to go during the day when the shelters force everyone out. As the economy has stagnated and the sharp divide in town between the wealthy and the poor has increased—housing costs are incredibly inflated thanks to landlords trying to milk cash from East and West Coast kids—the homeless population has swelled. This population growth has begun shifting the city’s liberal nature a little to the right. Now, a number of business have a strict no loitering policy, and the police have begun issuing tickets for things like, believe it or not in a college town, jaywalking. And a few weeks ago, the homeless staged a protest that ended with six of them chasing a blue car after the driver stopped and tried to punch a homeless woman in the face.

Most of them left us alone, but the last man to shuffle up the alley finally drove us away. I heard him before he got close. He was talking loudly enough to himself that I paused between snaps and looked toward the alley's southern entrance. He couldn’t walk straight. He swept from one side of the alley to the other, his head bopping and rolling as he spoke. I managed a couple more hurried pics, before he spotted us and began yelling.

I tossed my wife her coat. We went north up the alley, rounded the building, and circled back to our car. We warmed up, then drove north. I circled the square twice before I found a parking place. I walked the wife to the nail saloon where she was meeting her friend Vanessa, then headed over to the ATM by the parking garage and Scotty’s Brewhouse.

On the way back, a young guy stopped me. He wasn’t dressed for the weather. He didn’t have a coat. His bare hands were stuffed deep in his pockets. I could see he was tense, muscles bunched to brace against the chilly gusts. He asked me for money so he could get something to eat. I thought about it for a moment and I looked at his face. If you’ve even someone who was hurting, you can tell the difference between the con and someone who’s actually suffering. There’s a level of pain that can’t be faked.

I won’t give him cash, so we went into Taco Rocket. I bought him two tacos and a Coke. He blessed me. I nodded and walked back to the salon. I gave my wife money for the manicure, then went next door to the pub with our friend Rick and Vanessa’s boyfriend, Rockabilly Mike.

We drank pints and talked. When the girls were done, we walked to the other side of the square and had dinner at the Trojan Horse. I had a good time. It was nice to get out of the house. With the lovely wife’s medical issues, that’s not something that happens a lot anymore. But the entire time, the homeless men bothered me. The young guy especially.

My first thought was that’s what makes me a writer. On the drive back home, however, I decided, no, that’s what makes me human. 

February 3, 2013

Black Fields Forever

In The Clear, Black Fields of Night is now available for the Kindle. It’s only 99 cents and includes Garnett Elliot’s “Loose Ends” short as a bonus. Pick it up here and, in case you missed it, grab Simon Rip’s first adventure here.

As a big fan of sci-fi pulp adventure, I’m very excited for Black Fields to finally be loose in the wild. To encourage your excitement, here’s what I’m gonna do: anyone who e-mails me proof that they purchased Black Fields by February 8th will get their name tossed in a hat; on February 9th, I’ll draw one of the names, whatever name I draw will receive a random issue from my old pulp mag collection. Plus, the first person to e-mail me the very specific Doctor Who nod that I included in Part I: Time And Terror will get a random issue from my French pulp mag collection.

My e-mail is pretty easy. It's my name. And it's a gmail account. You can also FB or Google+ message me, if you prefer.
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