Friday, October 28, 2005


The first thing you learn as a Fiji is to be secretive, something I have never been very good at. Ask my wife, I totally suck at it. So, my privileged readers, you are about to be treated to some serious insider shit, and when it's all over you're going to say, "Is that it?"

Because the Fiji is so secretive, he doesn't clap in secret meetings--he snaps his fingers. I'm serious. And when a Fiji reads this, all my posts and comments on other blogs will be scrutinized by Fiji headquarters for clues, and I will be hunted down and killed.

Our pledge class thought it was ridiculous too, but soon we got the hang of it. The new pledges gathered in the greeting room in the front of the house, and of course we all had to introduce ourselves. Most of us were awkward looking in some way: too tall, disheveled hair, gaunt, skinny, short, fat, and random combinations thereof--like puzzles missing the last piece, a sad sack of Mr. Potato heads asymmetrically assembled by a sadistic child. Let's just say this was no beauty contest; but if it were, I would have had a good shot at the crown.

Each of us in turn stood up and stated our name, home town and major, followed by a chorus of snapping fingers like popcorn in a popper.

"Hi, uh, my name is Peter. I'm from Walla Walla. I'm, you know, studying to be a Veterinarian because I, uh, don't mind touching animals, you know?" The last two syllables warbled like a desperate plea. A gale of laughter cleaved the tense silence, as Peter quailed and skulked from the room like a cheerleader from a muffed tryout, face buried in cupped hands. We never saw him again.

"I'm Craig from Wenatchee, Criminal Justice. The only thing you need to know about me is that I am the fastest beer guzzler in this room." It was no idle boast either. He became my new mentor, and soon I could drink two Budweiser longnecks at the same time and only swallow once--after all, I still had much to learn.

There was Ned, who nicknamed himself Speed before someone gave him an unflattering moniker. To me he was Napoleon, a short man with a tall attitude--although I was polite enough to keep that one to myself. Eric from Seattle was a recovering Dead-head. Paul was a nice guy that waddled when he walked. Tony was my old dorm-mate. He was not attractive, but he didn't need to be because he was so cool. Still, that didn't explain how he managed to reel in his sweetheart of a girlfriend Molly that melted the heart of any guy that met her. The mystery was solved when Tony walked into the shower room, and word quickly spread. Of course we all pretended not to see, because we're not supposed to. It came out during a night of drinking.

We were sitting around the table playing quarters. I rolled the a quarter from the bridge of my nose, it hit the table with a crisp knock, and landed in the shot glass and rang like a cat's bell.

"Drink Tony." I said.

"How the hell did such an ugly fuck like you end up with a girl like Molly," Craig said as Tony threw back his beer mug.

"It's because he's hung like a horse," I said. Tony wiped his mouth and smiled wide while everyone had a good laugh.

I joined a fraternity to meet girls, so my plans weren't exactly moving forward. On the contrary, I had taken a huge leap back, because our house had a bad brand amongst the sororities. If a sister dated one of my brothers, she was independently minded, and didn't succumb to peer-pressure--so you can imagine how often that happened. I met lots of girls on campus, but once they found out what house I was in, the lights just went out. But my pledge brothers, and a great many of the house members, were good people, and despite my initial motivations, I was becoming one of them.

Jeff Starr. That's his real name. He is still my friend today because he is the most honest and sincere person I have ever met. His manner is slow, so he is frequently the target of ridicule by "cooler" people who are in fact slower in more important ways. Jeff tells the truth much like a child does, totally innocent and seemingly without knowing how it must sound. His way is real and heartfelt, and his friends don't just like him, they adore him.

Jim, one of the house members, always had something to say about Jeff. Jeff had a 280z with a personalized plate that said "THESTAR." Seven was the most characters you could get on a license plate, so he couldn't get a space between the and star. So Jim called him Thestar, as rhymes with Uncle Fester of the Addams Family, and the nickname stuck.

At a bar once, when Jeff had gone to get us some beers, Jim asked me, "How did you lose Starr?" He laughed at his own wittiness, but I just stared back at him.

"Why would I want to?" I said.

His smile faded, and then he looked around to see if any of his brothers were going to back him up. They just shrugged. "Uh, well, I was just joking."

The Fijis threw a dance party that required each brother to bring a date. Denny, a Fiji member and an extremely handsome and chiseled body builder, set Jim up on a date. Cassie was a knockout. I recognized her from around campus, and would have gladly traded places with Jim. She came to the house looking for him to be formally introduced and invited.

She waited in the greeting room as Denny made the introduction. Many of my fellow pledges and some of the house members were nearby to witness. Jim flushed crimson, even down his neck. He stammered and sputtered, looked at the ceiling and the floor, and made a total ass of himself. It was embarrassing by association. Cassie waited patiently, but you could see it on her face: "What have I gotten into?"

He finally asked her to go with him and she agreed. She shook his sweaty hand and took her leave. Nobody said a word to Jim. But I stored it up for later.

A couple nights later, as part of our pledge duties, Jeff and I had to serve dinner to the rest of the house. Word came to the kitchen that we had to put on a skit before dinner.

I had a wonderful idea.

Jeff put on some lipstick and I put on some red sweatpants and pulled the waist up over my belly, so that I had a slight camel toe. We got a pair of glasses and put tape around the middle, and with them on I looked a lot like Spaz from Meatballs.

Jeff walked out with Ned as a chaperone.

Ned: Wait here and I'll go get Jim.

Jeff (talking falsetto): Oh thank you Denny, you're so handsome!

Ned (flexing): Don't I know it.

I walked out and the place came unglued. Ned brought me to where Jeff stood and I made a really big show out of being stupid. Everyone was having a hard time breathing for all the laughing there was--except for Jim.

And like Jim, I finally mustered my courage to ask Jeff out, and we walked back to the kitchen hand in hand.

Funny, they never asked me to do a skit again.

I made one enemy that night--the first of many.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I spent part of a semester in the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity at Washington State University, better known as the Fiji's. I don't know what kind of house they are today, but in those days, it was considered the nerd house. It wasn't necessarily deserving of that reputation, but largely it was. Regardless of the merits of the moniker, it weighed heavily upon everyone, on me more than anyone else.

Many of the guys could have been in any other house on campus, but chose this one for personal reasons. I was convinced to visit during fraternity rush by a dorm floor-mate from my freshman year.

For those who don't know, Fraternity Rush is an event where hundreds of young men visit each Fraternity they are interested in joining. Each rusher is greeted and shown around, while the host and visitor gauge their own interest in each other. The Fraternities throw grand parties and invite those they find interesting--sometimes the parties have themes, or feature special events, like boxing between house members, big-time-type wrestling bouts, cliff-diving at the Snake River, carnival type atmosphere with a dunk-tank, etc. It's the really big show, and house members are all smiles, rays of pure sunshine, more friendly and helpful than the staff of any Four Seasons hotel in this hemisphere.

The rushers narrow their choices, and by the last day they go where they want to go and are either asked to join or are politely told to seek employment elsewhere. What really happens on that last day though, is that each Fraternity plants agents all over Frat Row who swarm their targets and shuttle them to the house and "hotbox" them into pledging. Hotboxing is the practice of surrounding the rusher in a room with four members, usually the more charismatic ones, and applying pressure.

"Guys in the house are really high on you Scott." Ken faced me with a clipboard in his hands. Chad, Biff and Larry grunted their affirmation as they stared at me like I was a blue ribbon heifer.

"That's great Ken, but I'm not ready to make that call yet."

"Listen, I'm not supposed to tell you this..." He looked at the others with a look that said, 'Should I?' The others looked worried, but decided that the situation warranted this breach of protocol. Ken's clipboard tilted towards me as he searched for my name, which I happened to see around mid-page. "You are our number one guy."

I wanted to leave and join the TKE house, right next door, but in the end, I caved to this obvious sham and said yes.

This isn't even close to being over...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Too Good, Too Bad

We all have a place on the sexual food chain. The rules are much like those that drive stock prices, based purely on speculation. A particular stock may look like an attractive buy until you look at such factors as price-to-earnings or return-on-investment. Timing is everything. For me personally, I prefer to be the majority stock holder of a privately held, well-managed enterprise.

The Microsoft of my college days at Washington State was Jennifer. Jennifer Lund. I'm using her real name so that one day she might, on a whim, do a self-search on Google and turn up this page, and from it learn what she may or may not have already known. I don't know where she is today, how she is doing, or who she married--and for that I am sorry, because she was my friend.

I met her through one of my first friends at the start of my freshman year. Willy, simply put, was a ladies man. His blonde hair was buzzed short except for a pinky-sized pony-tail extending from the nape of his neck and tied with a rubber band. He always wore faded Levis 501 jeans with holes at the knee caps, and if he had more than one pair I cannot say. His smile was warm and his voice deep, which no doubt served him well in his pursuit of theatre arts. Willy established himself as the player of the group when two blonde hotties wandered by our dorm room and he invited them in. I was too shy to say much, so I sat in a corner as Willy turned on some music and danced with one of them. He ran his hands over her shoulders, down her sides, then down and behind. She put both her arms over her head and let the music take her away. I was in awe, and Willy became my new hero.

"She's nothing," Willy said to me when I congratulated him for his new connection with the nameless blonde. "I've got my sights set on a goddess."

And so he introduced me to Jennifer. At first I thought they were a couple, which was understandable because Willy was convinced of it, but Jennifer apparently had no idea. She was light and breezy, and some would say incredibly insipid--but I never believed it. Girls like her that measure twelve on the Richter scale can take many paths in life, and some play down their intelligence in order to widen the field; because ironically, she was probably a lonely girl.

All because of guys like me.

Fortune smiled upon me when I found that we had Astronomy together. When she first saw me in that auditorium, she skipped over and took an adjoining seat, a position she took every day for our semester together. I kept a straight face, but my heart raced every time she did. My attitude towards her--like my life depended on it--was consistent: I could care less.

I was having lunch at the dining hall with a handful of my floor mates. Jennifer walked up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.

"Hi Scott!"

I turned around and saw her, and my stomach rumbled like the inside of a lotto machine, with numbered ping pong balls bouncing randomly around. God she was perfect. My face, however, remained inscrutable.

"Hey," I replied with taut lips.

"Can we get together to study for our Astronomy test tonight?"

"I have plans."

"Oh, ok." She backed up a few steps.

"Um…” She stopped and looked at me hopefully. "Maybe I can free up. I'll give you call later."

She brightened at that. "Ok, so maybe I'll see you!"

When she was gone, everybody stared at me in stunned silence. Brady, a Spicoli wannabe surfer dude from Hawaii, said, "Get me a napkin. I just came."

It was a weekend night. I didn't have a car, and neither did my friends, and we weren't old enough yet to go to the bars in Moscow. My roommate Guy and a few others were in our dorm room playing Dungeons and Dragons when we heard a knock at the door.

I pulled the door open, but when I saw it was Jennifer and her girl friend, I closed it so that I filled the opening.

"What are you doing here?" I asked her.

"We had some plans tonight but they fell through. So we were sitting around, feeling kind of bored, and then I thought 'Scott might be around tonight!' What are you up to?" She tried to look around me, but I shut the door tighter.

"Nothing much really."

"Can we come in?"

"Uh, now is not a good time. So thanks for coming by."

She looked disappointed as I shut the door.

"What the hell is wrong with you?" Guy asked me.

"I don't want her to see me playing D&D!"

"So what? She had a friend with her too!"

"I know man. I'm sorry."

The sad truth of it was, she was too beautiful to be my friend, or anything else for that matter. She reminded me of my place in life, and I took out my frustration on her. Today I would have let her in the door and let her laugh at me if she was so inclined, and I would laugh along with her. I'm so much more at ease with myself now.

Steve, The RA on my floor that year, had a friend that had that certain look, that air of confidence that oozed from every pore. His friend was over for the weekend and asked me if I knew any girls I could introduce him to. Jennifer was definitely in his league.

"Do you know her number?" he asked me. And I did. He dialed her up as Steve and I stared at each other, not quite believing he had the guts to make the call.

"Hello is this Jennifer?" he said into the phone. "I've been told by a friend that you are the hottest girl on campus, and I'd really like to meet you."

He paused and looked at us with a bemused expression. "Who gave me your number? Do you know Steve Kern?"

Steve jumped out of his seat. "It was SCOTT! I had nothing to do with it!"

At that, I jumped up and got in Steve's face, "Hey, she doesn't even know you, so shut your f--- mouth."

"Ok, hold on." Steve's buddy handed him the phone. "Here, she wants to talk to you."

"Oh Jesus." Steve snatched the phone away from him. "Listen, I..." His mouth dropped open and his buddy fell onto the bed laughing. "You son of a bitch! That wasn't funny."

I looked between them, not comprehending.

Steve said, "Dial tone. He never called her."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Good Time Charlies

There was a time, call it a time between times, where the forces in my life had reached a neutral balance. Dad was still friends with the Ricks gang--George, Troy and Raimey. Clay was in his prime. My step-mother Polly was in a good mood as long as her pacifier, a cool can of Budweiser, was either in hand or sweating a white ring into the coffee table. Her nephew Fess and his honkytonk crowd of friends provided comic relief in the style of the old western--from friendly jesting to barroom brawls.

There was never a dull moment.

The gang grew like cotton candy floss to a swirling stem as we moved across the country from job to job. Dad and George were leaders, the bread-winners to whom contracts were given like handshakes. We swarmed like army ants over new construction sites and left new buildings in our wake.

We typically split the rent four to ten ways, and so had money to spare. Life was about two things: work and play. We ran from dusk till dawn, and then partied until the AM. Sometimes we had to be rolled up and thrown into the cab of the truck, but we always started the workday on time.

You may have recognized our type. Dirty baseball hats, mud-streaked faces and arms, ragged jeans, crimson necks and t-shirt tans. People stared at us at fancy restaurants until we caught them looking, and bad guys at taverns mumbled in the corner to their friends until we were gone.

The kind of people I am describing would cause me fits today--and while I was making the best of those days, biding my time until I could escape to a path of my own choosing, I have to admit to a few guilty pleasures. There was a code of conduct even amongst our scofflaw bunch. We could pick on each other, but nobody from the outside could do the same. If you stumbled into a bees nest, your buddies had your back. The humor was crude yet oddly liberating. There was nothing politically correct about those days. Skin color was irrelevant--as long as it was thick.

George was the devil of the bunch. A gang of Native Americans stared us down as we took our places at the stools and tables at a backwoods tavern. These people were known for their brutality to stray white people that came unwittingly alone into this wolves den. I had heard a few stories involving knives and pistols, and so had George.

We paid them no heed as we sloshed down the first round. The biggest of their bunch was giving us the evil eye, so George walked up to him and put his arm around his neck.

"Do I know you from somewhere buddy?" He asked him.

"Uh, no."

"You sure about that?"

"Yeah, I'm sure."

"Well you keep starin' at me. I was startin' to think we was old buddies or somethin'." George jerked him around and walked him around like his own personal Charley McCarthy. He brought him to the bar.

"Bartender," George said, "I'd like to buy my old buddy a beer. In fact, I'd like to buy one for all my new buddies too."

Soon we were playing pool and dice with our would-be aggressors, and having a good time. We left the bar and piled into the truck. Our new native friends were looking out the large plate glass window at us, and a few were at the door. George didn't get in with us, and pulled at his zipper and started taking a leak. Dad fired up the truck and pulled away, leaving George exposed to his audience within.

George got stage fright and sputtered to a halt; but through an extreme act of will--and a few false starts--managed to finish the job before pulling his shorts up over his snow-white cheeks. He gave the double bird as a farewell to the caterwauling crowd within the bar, jumped in back of the fish-tailing truck that sprayed gravel and dirt into the parking lot behind it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Keep It To Yourself

"It's all set. Come on down to Houston and pick up your new car."

I shot to my feet and switched the phone to my other ear. "Oh my God, you are a miracle worker! How did you pull it off?"

"I have a friend at GMAC that owes me a favor." Normally Mom was her own biggest fan, but today my admiration was super nova to her satellite moon.

"But my credit..." I started. "A defaulted school loan, a repo--"

"Hey, it's me we're talking about now."

"You sure got that right. You're the best!"

Mom let it soak in for a second. "So when are you coming then?"

"Jeff and I are making a mini-vacation out of it and are going to take an Amtrak. We'll be down next week."

"Great. But do me a favor?"

"Sure Mama-san, anything."

"Don't tell Jeff about Scotty, ok?"

"Like you had to tell me. I wouldn't say anything about that."

"I know," she said, "but that is very personal to me and I had to make sure."

"Don't worry about it Mom. I'll keep my mouth shut."


The Amtrak tickets were almost as expensive as airfare, but the seats were as comfortable as first-class. Jeff and I were enjoying the experience, traveling in time-honored fashion.

"Listen," I said to Jeff, "That stuff I told you about Scotty..."

Jeff perked up from his seat beside me with a devilish grin. "Yeah?"

"Don't say anything to my Mom about it. She specifically told me not to say anything, and of course I already opened my big mouth."

"You're not very good at keeping secrets," he laughed.

"I don't know why I run on so much about personal issues that are best kept to myself. That was Casey's big complaint--"

"The bitch?"

I raised an eyebrow. "Thank you Jeff. The bitch told me that I lack healthy boundaries."

"I don't know why you would take stock in anything she had to say anyway." He rested his head against a pillow that looked more like overstuffed ravioli and closed his eyes.


"Mom, this is Jeff."

She took his hand. "Hello Jeff, I am so glad to finally meet you. Scott says the most wonderful things about you."

"All untrue of course," Jeff said.

"You are a good friend to take this trip with him."

I clapped him on the back. "Only the best Mom."

Pictures of family and friends adorned the walls; stand-up 8x10 frames were propped on end-tables and atop a green faux-antique entertainment center--featuring a high quality portrait of Mom and Scotty where Jeff's eyes came to rest.

"Your husband?" He asked.

"Yeah," she said as she waved it off, "but he's in Huntsville for dealing drugs. He got caught selling to a cop. How smart was that?"

Monday, October 17, 2005

Self Editing

I'm still reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. As I review my short story and some of my more serious posts, I see several violations of the techniques described in this excellent book. Some people would be depressed by such revelations, but I find it invigorating. Anyone who is serious about writing knows when there is something that just isn't right with a piece of work. This book gives me the tools to dissect and correct, and gives many examples of bad habits and how to correct them. I see myself in the bad habits sections time and again. I have a few good habits too, so it's not all bad.

Here's an example of a no-no from my post, Away From Anna:

"Where's Clay?" I asked with barely concealed panic.

Here I have explained to the reader my panic, instead of showing it with physical action. I could have said something like:

My eyes darted wildly about the room as I let out a fluttering breath. "Where's Clay?"

I'm not sure about the prose, but at least here I am painting a picture in the reader's mind.


In other news, the Cardiac Cowboys stand alone atop the NFC east. My readers aren't football fans, so I won't bore you with the details. Let's just say the Cowboys made it close once again, but did indeed pull it out in the end, leaving me broken and breathless on the floor.

I tell myself every year, "Let it go man. It's just a game." Football is the only drug I have left, if you don't count caffeine. Things could be worse.


I have a new inspiration for a short story. I have a beginning and a killer ending, but the middle part is a bit fuzzy. It passed the initial litmus test; namely, my wife. This could possibly be the start of something wonderful (cue inspirational music).

Friday, October 14, 2005


My littlest guy, Emmett, has found his voice. He still can't say too much, but he has mastered the usage of the word NO. He's gotten quite good at UP too, but not all by itself. It's goes something like this: up, up, up, up, up, Up, Up, Up, UP, UP, UP, UUUUP!!!

Speaking of which, he just woke up.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Away From Anna

This is the conclusion of something I started here and here.

It had been a month, and I was sure I could handle seeing her again. It wasn't like anything really happened anyway--I reasoned with myself. Then why did I have a churning ball of sour butter in my stomach?

It was simple really. She spent the night at my place because she and Clay had had a fight. Being the good friend I was, I took her in--but I didn't call Clay to tell him she was ok. He would have come to get her, and I didn't want that, did I?

I drove her home in the morning on my way to work, and hadn't seen her since. Standing outside her apartment now with my fist poised to knock, I froze in place. Like a sleepwalker who suddenly wakes, confused and wondering how the hell he got there, I backed up a few steps and sifted my fingers through my hair. Whatever I had planned at that point was irrelevant, because the door opened as if I had knocked. Anna stood in the opening smiling sweetly.

"Scotty, it's so good to see you."

I looked down despite my will to meet her gaze. "Uh, how are you Anna?"

"I'm good. Please come in."

She backed away from the door and I walked by. "Where's Clay?" I asked with barely concealed panic.

"Oh, he won't be back for a while," she said, "He is getting some boxes for the move."

"You're moving?!" I had no trouble looking at her now.

She smiled wanly. "We want to be near our family, and work here has almost dried up." Her gaze was intense, probing, expecting.

There was nothing I could say without saying what I wanted to say. I fumbled for the words, but all that came out was, "That's... uh..."

She smiled then, and I knew she understood.

"So," I said, "tell Clay I stopped by, ok?"


I started towards the door when, in a small voice like an innocent child, she said to my back, "Can I at least get a hug?"

I stopped and turned around. I saw her again as I saw her that night, wearing only panties and my t-shirt. Her voice echoed in my memory, tempting and darkly seductive, "I could sleep with you if I wanted, couldn't I?" Again I felt the shame of knowing she was right, and the simultaneous relief and agony that she didn't press me further.

As we hugged tightly, she whispered in my ear, "I love you Scotty."

We pulled apart and I said with all sincerity, "I love you too." I walked out of the room and into my car, away from Clay, away from Anna.

I haven't seen either since.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Back To Feeling Good

I was at a bar at Lake Tahoe, slightly hung over from the previous night of gambling--no richer or poorer. In the midst of a green sea of Eagles jerseys, I was one man alone with a blue number eight on my back. Troy Aikman, the man who had finally eclipsed the revered Roger Stauback in my mind as the greatest Cowboys quarterback ever, confidently stood behind the most dominating offensive line in football. They had won three Superbowls in four years--but in my opinion, the boys would have won five straight if Jimmy Johnson hadn't left Dallas after the first two. We owned the Eagles, and today would be no different.

The Eagles did the unthinkable and started with an onside kick--and recovered it. They marched down the field for a quick score. Their defense stampeded the Cowboys, sacking Aikman four times and giving him a mild concussion, which effectively ended his career. Joey Galloway tore a knee ligament, a wide receiver we acquired for two first round draft picks. The Eagles runningback, Duce Staley, torched us for over 200 yards.

This was the opening game of the year 2000. The bellwether. The Eagles would proceed to dominate the Cowboys for the next nine of ten meetings. As a fan, it was hard to watch.

So imagine my elation on Sunday when the Cowboys absolutely dismantled the Eagles 33 to 10. Donovan McNabb spent some time on his back, and the rest of the game running around trying to make something out of nothing. Sure, Donovan isn't feeling himself, having a bruised sternum or some such injury, but this same man took Kansas City apart last weekend in a second half comeback.

Could this be another bellwether game for this renovated Parcells team, or was it just a lucky game of the every-dog-has-it's-day variety? The truth is likely somewhere in between. We'll meet the Eagles again this year, and hopefully once in the playoffs. Let's see how the boys do against the red-hot Giants next week.

Call me a dreamer, but I'm starting to believe.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Working For The Weekend

Behold my latest nemesis.

My task was simple: take out the old toilet bowl. I'd done it before. There's nothing to it. The house we live in was built in '75, and I'm guessing that we've been squatting on the original toilet. It suffered from internal bleeding and sweat like Jorge Garcia doing squat thrusts in a suana wearing ski pants and a parka. The old valve was nearly rusted solid, but I managed to turn the water off. After emptying the water from the bowl and basin, I started to disconnect the water hose from the basin and had almost succeeded, but I reached a point where I couldn't loosen it any further, and I only had one or more turns to go. So naturally I gave it one last hard twist and felt it give. I was laying on my back so I couldn't see the damage. Water blasted me on the head with the force of a firehose, and I thought irrationally that it was coming from the basin. The old valve had snapped clean off from the elbow. I was laying in a pool of water that was getting deeper. My whole family was in shock and screaming. Thankfully I had the well replaced and paid attention, because I knew where the water cutoff switch was and ran downstairs to pull it. Water cascaded from the basement ceiling and pooled on the floor.

The damage was minimal, as the bathroom was right above the unfinished basement.

I made a new friend this weekend. His name is Joe. Joe was a plumber for twenty years who now works at Home Depot. It isn't known for it's customer service, but once in a while you find someone at Home Depot that is really passionate about the products he or she supports. Joe assured me that I would be able to solder another elbow onto my water pipe, as the old one was beyond reuse. I bought a torch and soldering kit, and listened intently to what I needed to do. I was up until one in the morning with no success. I Googled. I called my dad but he wasn't around. Finally I gave up and called a plumber.

By now it was Sunday. The house had been without water for a day and a half. Mommy was getting cranky, and she held her breath when I walked by (I needed a shower--badly). I had to leave a message with the plumber for emergency service. The plumber called me and told me that, sure, he could come out, for one million dollars. I think he was getting ready to watch the Patriots game, so he gave me a pep talk instead.

"Three things will kill you every time when trying to solder a joint. First: water. Go outside and turn on a hose. That will drop the water out of your house lines. Second: clean the pipe and the elbow until both shine like a new penny. Third: flux both liberally, or the solder won't stick. It wouldn't hurt to cut open an old can and put it behind the pipe so you don't burn down the house. "

Ooops. You may notice the blackened char in the picture. I had to back off with the torch because the wood was lighting up.

So I followed his directions. I heated up the elbow and applied the solder to the joint, and like magic it melted and disappeared up in. I was so happy that I applied way too much, as you can see. But not a drop of water escaped when I turned the water back on.

There is a lot more to the story. Like how I sawed through the wall--and my drainage pipe. I have some experience working with PVC from my sprinkler system in California. You can see on the left the wood that I cut like a jackass. I never even considered what could be behind it. Anyway, the couplers I put on didn't seal right, so now I am going to try to caulk around them. Like my aunt Rosanne Rosanna Danna once said, "If it ain't one thing it's another..."

Friday, October 07, 2005

Mommy Don't Play That

Jackson picked up a stack of books at the library on a variety of animal subjects: Horses, lizards, birds, cats, dogs--and rodents. Specifically mice, hamsters, rats and gerbils. My name should have been Noah, because I have owned two of every kind of animal when I was a kid. Dad didn't care. Jackson's mommy, my darling wife, is stripe of a different color--and Jackson knows it. When I read him bedtime stories, he picks from the horse stack; but when it's mommy's turn, out comes the rodent book.

Mommy comes downstairs at five of eight and I hand her a steaming cup of fresh coffee. The boys and I are sitting at the kitchen table. Jackson has eight plastic lizards in formation around his cereal bowl, and Emmett is shoving a spoonful of yogurt the size of his fist into his mouth.

"Daddy," Jackson is talking to me, but the message is for mommy, "did you know that hamsters don't like to be woke up."

She looks at me with a knowing, 'here we go' look, "Yeah, they're very crabby and bite their owners all the time. The book says they like to hide, so if they get out of the cage you won't find them."

Jackson is encouraged, "But mouses don't mind at all. They like it. And they have good balance; they can walk across a whole stick without falling. But they aren't smart, not like rats."

"A rat is the most intelligent of all rodents," she adds, "but it smells." She squinches her face as if a smoking rat carcass were on the table.

"Not the female mommy," Jackson corrects her.

"True," she admits.

"So," I said, "then Jackson can get a rat for a pet?"

"Yeah! Can I mommy, pleeeeeease?"

My wife uses the force now, and my throat is starting to constrict.

"That is not funny honey," she warns, "do NOT encourage this."

Can't... breath... must... get... oxygen...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Thank you to everyone who read my short story. I plan to do many more in the near future. In fact, I hope to be in the process of writing one each week. But first things first.

I took a creative writing course at Solano Community College in Fairfield, California, and was blessed to have such a wonderful instructor in Dr. Laurie Duesing. She had a special talent for critique--a balanced blend of encouragement and constructive criticism. I started her class with the vague idea that I wanted to write, and ended with a passion that has sustained me since. All writing students are asked to keep a journal, but not many succeed. The task becomes odious and is eventually dropped. Even Dr. D. told me once that she doesn't keep up on hers like she should. Enter the blog.

I believe the blog will be the writing student's journal of the future, if it is not already employed today. A blog with a following, no matter how small, must be maintained and be somewhat interesting to attract and keep vistors. Teachers can leverage the oldest form of persuation to keep their students writing: peer pressure. I would write every day regardless*, but my blog friends lift me up--a welcomed and unexpected surprise.

* excluding weekends and holidays, see side panel for details

After Dr. D's writing class, a small group of us decided to press on and get together on our own. It started big and pared down to four with an occasional surprise visitor, but for the most part it boiled down to Toni, Elizabeth, Monica and myself. Elizabeth is an aspiring romance writer and is a successful singer songwriter in the Bay Area, whose talent was obvious from the first piece she read in class. Monica has a frightening grasp of language, and is the only person I've encountered whose prose needs to be dumbed down in order to communicate with the average reader. She is amazing. Toni, my writing buddy, writes from a place deep in her heart. She paints vivid scenes from her childhood and can transport her reader from a desk overlooking Times Square to the back of a wild stallion in a fantasy world. Toni has been published in magazines, and is my number one proponent. She told me in an email recently that I won't become a writer someday--I already am.

As part of being a writer, you have to absorb criticism of your work. Who among us is perfect? Have you ever found it easier to see the flaws in others than in yourself? My writers group didn't pull punches when it came to grammatical errors, and neither did Dr. D. I submitted my story to my wife, who, after reading it, was pleased with the plot but had comments on my wording and sentence structures. She was shy at first, and what wife wouldn't be. Has anyone seen Funny Farm? There is a classic scene where Chevy Chase has written a novel and surprises his wife with the completed manuscript on their anniversary. He makes her read it against her wishes, and she hates it, which is a turning point in their relationship. I have assured my darling wife that I will take it like a big boy, even if the medicine is unflavored.

Dixie Belle, a romance author whose blog I frequent, was kind enough to read my story and offer constructive advice:
Scott: I read it. I like the plot twists. You need to cut some of the adjectives, especially out of the first paragraph. Also break some of the longer sentences into shorter ones, which will make them more effective and quicken the pace. Also be careful with dialogue tags, especially animal sounds.
This is the kind of advice I used to get from my writers group, and especially from Dr. D. I had misgivings about some long sentences, and even about some of the adjectives I used, such as gigantic head. But her reference to dialog tags sent me to Google and to the bookshelf. I found a book by Stephen King, On Writing, that I bought maybe two years ago but never read through. The first section recounted his life, which held my interest fleetingly at best. Yesterday however, I opened to the very page of a discussion on dialog attribution. In a nutshell, dialog attribution refers to words like "said" and "asked." Take this sentence for instance: "Daddy, can I have some ice cream?" asked Jackson. The word asked is a dialog attribution or tag. Some authors would spice my example dialog by replacing "asked" with "pleaded" or "begged." Others avoid such markups. Here is what Stephen King has to say about it:
Some writers (..) shoot the attribution verb full of steroids. The result is familiar to any reader of pulp fiction or paperback original:

"Put down the gun, Utterson!" Jekyll grated.
"Never stop kissing me!" Shayna gasped.
"You damned tease!" Bill jerked out.

Don't do these things. Please oh please.

The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said. If you want to see this put stringently into practice, I urge you to read or reread a novel by Larry McMurtry, the Shane of dialogue attribution. That looks damned snide on the page, but I'm speaking with complete sincerity. McMurtry has allowed few adverbial dandelions to grow on his lawn. He believes in he-said/she-said even in moments of emotional crisis (and in Larry McMurtry novels there are a lot of those). Go and do thou likewise.
I am reading The Writers Companion as a referesher course on sentence construction, and after that the aforementioned Stephen King book. If I want to be serious, I have to be the master of my craft.

I know there are a few readers of mine that have the same goals, such as Mr. Schprock, Chloe and NYPinTA. Probably Jason and Zombie, and a few others too. I welcome all comments, critical or otherwise, and am willing to do the same in return. That's the only way we are going to get better.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Played Out

My first short story in it's entirety.

"No, no, no, no, noooo!" He screamed and covered his ears, alone in a dark hotel room. The shadow of his head danced on the wall behind him, strobing like a frantic heartbeat to the scene of death on the television. The high school photo of a dark haired girl lay distorted in the glossy marble of his eyes as a single tear snaked down his cheek, stopping and starting, gathering in strength and releasing in short bursts.

He reached over the foot of the bed and shut the TV off and the blackness swept over him. He sat hunched over with his head cupped in his hands for over an hour; the hum of the nearby freeway was his only company.

The phone exploded like a fire alarm but didn't startle him. He watched the orange light on the headset flicker until he could see it with his eyes closed, but made no move to answer. The calling party was persistent and waited patiently until he finally picked up.

"Ned," said the voice from the other side.

Ned didn’t reply, but his presence was betrayed by the wheeze of air squeezing through his constricted nasal passages.

"Come on Ned. Say something for Christ’s sake."

"Why don't you leave me alone Evie," he said through gritted teeth.

"Now baby, is that any way to talk to your fiancé?"

"I'm warning you Evie, do not mock me."

"I'm not mocking you Ned. I made a mistake and I want a second chance."

"Forget it!" Ned stood up and paced between the two double beds as far as the phone chord would stretch.

"C'mon baby, you know I can't live without you. Who loves you?"

"Don't make me laugh."

She paused for moment and cleared her throat. "Ned, I know you left your wife and children for me. It was overwhelming--I mean, you gave up everything for me, and I'll admit that once the roadblocks were out of the way, I lost interest. The challenge was gone."

Ned stopped pacing and his eyes narrowed to slits. He waited.

"I behaved so badly, Ned. I was so cold."

"Are you going somewhere with this?" Ned asked.

"When we were together, you did everything for me. I took from you Ned--because I could. I never stopped to appreciate what I had. I've never felt like this Ned, and I need you to come back to me. Let me prove that I mean what I say."

"You turned all my friends against me, Evie." Ned was screaming now. “I had everything before you came along, and now I am a dead man walking, friendless and alone. You ruined my life and have a lot of nerve calling me."

She didn’t answer right away. Finally Evie said, "There's a little bar on the corner of Main and Tupelo. Meet me there."

Ned didn't reply.

"I promise you Ned, if you come and meet me, the word 'No' will never touch my lips again."

Still no reply.

"I need you Ned. Please meet me."


"Oh, thank God! I swear baby, you won't regret this. Listen, I want to start completely over."

"I know Evie, just shut up before I change my mind."

"No, I want to meet you all over again, like we never met before, and start again like two young lovers with a world of possibilities before them."

"Jesus Evie, why do you always have to play games?”

"Please Ned, indulge me on this. Let's start fresh. See me like you saw me when we first met. Woo me. Seduce me with that beautiful smile."

Ned extended his palm in an expression of disbelief, as if she were standing in the room with him. "You want me to pretend like we've never met?"

"That's right. Won't it be fun?"

"And you want me to pick you up?"

"Uh huh, but don't think I'm going to be easy buddy. I'm not that kind of girl."

"I see."

"Will you do it then--for me?" Evie asked like flirtatious school girl.

"I'll think about it."

"That's my teddy bear. I'll be there at 10. I love you Ned."

"Sure baby."

Ned wasn't sure how long he had been on the road, or what state he was in. He couldn't stay in Hayden Lake any more. The town was small and his friends despised him for leaving his family for that "little whore." The affair started small, with occasional lunchtime trysts, but Evie demanded more and more of his time, and called him sometimes at home, hanging up whenever his wife answered. He called in sick at work and spent his time with her. He lost his job eventually, but went away daily as if he hadn't. Soon it was impossible to hide his indiscretion from his wife, who even after all the humiliation of being the last to know, still gave him a chance to reconcile, for she was a devout Christian and believed that her vows meant something, for better and for worse. But even her faith had limits. After her ultimatum was ignored, she packed their things and the children and left him alone in an empty apartment and bank account.

When he told Evie the news, she curtly and without explanation told him not to call anymore. He left hundreds of messages but she would not return his calls. He was devastated, unemployed and broke; his depression was exacerbated by the sudden dearth of antidepressants that his wife wasn't around to force down his throat, so he became dark and dour. His entire social circle consisted of mutual friends with him and his wife, so he was basically friendless, with nobody to lean on as the rent came due.

Desperate, he drove to nearby Spirit Lake and staked out a small bank and decided to rob it. He parked his car outside of town, behind some bushes where it wouldn't be spotted, and hiked through the woods while memorizing his escape route. Carrying a semi-automatic .45 Glock that his father willed to him, he stormed into the bank lobby wearing a Yoda mask and fired a shot into the wall inches above the shoulder of the dozing security guard; the old man soiled his trousers and fell to the ground as Ned unsnapped the man's holster and removed the gun into his own belt.

Ned jumped on the service counter and had the tellers empty their cash drawers. He made away with over five thousand dollars, and spent little over four minutes in doing so. He was safely under cover of the trees as the police screeched to a halt in front of the bank and stormed the lobby.

The time to leave town was long overdue, so he packed what little belongings he had into the back of his pickup. It was a Friday night when he was ready to leave; his head was swimming in a haze, on a very low swing of his manic depression. He stopped outside a nightclub where he had met first met Evie, and parked as far away from the entrance as the lot allowed. From the dark cab of his truck, his face slightly aglow from the neon nightclub sign, he saw Evie climb from the passenger seat of a Mercedes. The driver, a man with long blonde hair slicked back over his ears, in his early twenties wearing an Armani suit, walked around and opened the door for her.

"Pretty boy," Ned grumbled. Evie stood on the tips of her toes, wrapped her arms around his neck and let her purse dangle down his back. They kissed deep and long. Ned's brow was furrowed and his forehead was pressed tightly against the windshield; a cry like that of a wounded animal gurgled in his throat. The lovers parted and turned towards the night club entrance, and Ned saw the man's hand cup her behind. An ice storm raged behind Ned's eyes; his vision blurred, then the world faded to black.

Ned pulled up to the corner of Main and Tupelo and looked through the front window of the bar Evie had mentioned, and remembered seeing the place while searching for a hotel in this backwoods Midwestern town. He was fifteen minutes early so he parked across the street and waited for Evie to show.

His brain felt like a rock, and he wished not for the first time that he hadn't thrown his meds away. A woman with a short jean miniskirt, lipstick-red cowboy boots and long, dark hair that cascaded from a white cowboy hat down the length of her back danced in front of the club as the pounding beat from within pulled at her strings like a marionette. Ned stared for a moment and blinked twice. He almost didn't recognize her, but there stood Evie. It only now struck him as odd that she had found him so far away from home.

Evie looked around the street, and Ned ducked out of sight. She wouldn't recognize the car he was in. He dumped off the truck the night he left Hayden Lake, and stole the car to replace it. German engineering was known for its excellence, but he had never actually driven a Mercedes before. The sound system was impeccable, and the ride was like skiing through fresh powder. Thinking about it made him dizzy, but try as he did, he could not remember what possessed him to make the swap. His pickup truck was his pride and joy. Many Sunday afternoons turned to dusk while he washed and waxed until it shined like a crown jewel.

He cautiously peeked over the steering wheel, and found that Evie had gone inside. His hands were cold, so he rubbed them together furiously to warm them. The doorman regarded him as Ned approached with a suspicious glare.

"You look like shit," the man boomed like a bass drum.

"Yeah, well I feel like shit too. I could really use a cold one, know what I mean?"

The doorman didn't respond, but leaned towards him and stared, probing and aggressive. Ned felt self conscious and tried not to blink. "Keep your nose clean and don't cause any trouble," the man said finally, but his manner promised a savage 'or else.' He moved aside just enough so that Ned had to turn sideways to squeeze by, and as he did, he felt the doorman's breath on his face that huffed in loud gusts from his overlarge, bull-sized nostrils.

The dance floor was packed with men and women dressed in colorful cowboy regalia line dancing to an upbeat western swing. His eyes were irritated by the smoke that hung in the air like billowing fog on a windless day. There was no circulation, creating a rank fusion of sweat, smoke, shit, sawdust and stale beer, tempered with a touch of perfume--like a clammy armpit with a swipe of Chap Stick. The bar was a corral enclosed by a ring of beer glasses, pitchers and stools, where three bartenders bounced around like pin balls, taking drink orders with complete indifference and eye contact on a need-to-look basis only.

Evie sat on the other side of the bar closest to front window, so Ned found a spot kitty corner from her. When the bartender asked, "What'll it be," Ned replied, "A Bud for me, and whatever the girl is having." The bartender looked to where Ned pointed. His eyes widened for a moment, and then he shook his head.

"No way."

Over the bartender's shoulder Ned saw his reflection in a mirror between stacks of shot glasses. His face was gaunt and his eyes were sunken with dark rings. He pulled out a hundred dollar bill and placed on the bar. "Just do me this one favor and keep the change."

The bartender hesitated, then, cocking an eyebrow, took the money and went to Evie. He leaned over the bar and gestured towards Ned, then fixed her a Tequila Sunrise. She looked at Ned with a smile that wavered slightly when she saw him. When the bartender gave him his beer, he scooped it off the bar and made his way around to where she sat.

"Care for a dance cowgirl," he asked with a smile that despite his bedraggled look illuminated his face. She turned slowly with her drink in hand and took a long pull from the straw.

"I appreciate the drink cowboy," she said with some contempt, "but I'll settle for a how d'ya do, and thank you to be on your way."

Ned was stunned and could only look at her with his jaw half open.

"Perhaps I wasn't clear," she said as she made a dismissive wave with her hand, "shoo fly, shoo!"

"Evie," he implored, "you said hard to get, but I don't feel like playing any more."

"Evie? Who the hell is Evie?"

"Enough is enough Evie," Ned said with growing menace, "I am sick of your games!"

"First of all, my name is Charlotte, and there is something terribly wrong with you. Did you crawl out of the back of a garbage truck?"

Ned clenched his hands into fists and got in her face, "Why did you call me, huh?! Why didn't you just leave me the fuck alone?"

She screamed as one of the bartenders leapt over the bar and took Ned to the ground, while others, including the burly doorman, jumped on him. Ned screamed until the air was forced from his lungs, and was forced to acquiesce. When the fight was out of him, one by one the men unpeeled themselves from the pile, and then the doorman hooked him under the belt and by the hair and threw him out front on the sidewalk. Ned skid on his face, scraping his forehead and chin. He got up slowly as blood ran into his eyes.

Ned stumbled into the street and was nearly hit by a passing car, then staggered to the Mercedes and opened the passenger side door and fumbled for the catch of the glove compartment. It opened like a whisper and offered him the Glock. Ned stuffed it in his belt behind him, took off his t-shirt and tied it around his head to staunch the bleeding, then strode purposefully back to the main entrance where the doorman waited with a grin.

"Come back for more have y..." The bullet exploded through his head and shattered the glass door behind him. The bar erupted in panic and became a chorus of screams. Ned went to where he had last seen Evie, and saw her running over the dance floor towards a back exit. She had nowhere to go, as the crowd was crawling over itself to get away, and there was no escape.

"Evie," he yelled at her back, "turn around!"

Realizing her predicament, she had no choice but to face him. Her eyes were wide and swollen with tears; black streaks ran down her face like oil drips, and snot hung in stretching elastic strands from her nose. "Please," she begged, "I don't want to die."

"Just tell me why you left me, Evie." Tears fell from his eyes and his voice wavered, "I had a good life, but you came along and took it all away!"

"I-I-I'm sorry," she cried as she shook her head, "but you have me confused with someone else. Please don't kill me."

"Where’s your high and mighty attitude now, huh?!"


"I'm doing the world a favor. It's been real Evie, and it's been fun. But it hasn't been real fun."

Ned drove for a couple miles and stole a Volkswagen van, and then traded for an old Chevy Nova after ditching the van. The days and nights blended together like they were on fast forward. He finally decided to stop for the night at a motel and get a good nights rest. The room had two double beds and a television chained to a dresser, which he turned on while he washed up in the bathroom.

He sat down on the bed and propped a few pillows behind him and started to doze off when he saw his face on the television. He fumbled for the remote and turned up the volume.

"...police suspect this man, Ned Burnham of Hayden Lake Idaho, for the murders of several young women that fit a similar physical profile. He is believed to be responsible for the brutal slaying of Eva Simpson and her boyfriend Carlton Trask outside the Strand nightclub on the outskirts of Hayden Lake. Burnham most recently has been identified by eyewitnesses from photographs as the murderer of Charlotte Redding and David Metzler of Kaycee, Wyoming. We have with us tonight Dr. Jean Piette, a psychologist who once treated Burnham for severe manic depression. Doctor, in your opinion..."

Ned switched off the television.

Before too long, in the heart of darkness, the phone began to ring.