Thursday, December 26, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Part 5

This is the final edition of the five-part challenge to add 200 words to someone else' story.  I skipped a part or two; apologies…  My addition is at the very end.

Part 1: Josee De Angelis

Of course it would rain today. It couldn’t be nice and sunny. Perfectly crappy weather for a crappy day. Shane dragged her luggage down the hall, her box of books under her arm, all her hats on her head – good thing the rain hat was the last one she found. What she couldn’t fit in her suitcases she wore. The furniture would have to come later. She couldn’t stand to be in that apartment one minute more.

The rain was coming down hard when Shane opened the front door. It was very dark, as if the clouds decided to play with people’s minds and make it look like nighttime. This did nothing to lighten Shane’s mood. Where would she go? Where could she go? Not going to her parents’ home, that’s for sure. Her sister’s? Only if she wanted all her past choices to be dissected, analyzed and declared wrong. They were wrong, but did she really need to hear it from someone else? Not so much.

Shane decided to walk north to put as much space as she could between herself and the apartment, where she lived moderately happy for six years. That was before everything changed. Before yesterday.

Part 2: Liz Neering

Yesterday the shadow had appeared. It began as a black spot, hidden away in the corner. But as the day progressed it had bled like spilled ink into the bulk of the room, until by the time she had gone to bed, it had stretched its dark fingers across the bulk of the apartment. She had slept huddled on the sofa, her knees drawn up to her chest, her hands wrapped around her shins to keep her tightly coiled and far away from the blackness coming to claim her.

They would never understand. They would never believe.

Shane pulled her hats down further, tugging them down her forehead until their stacked brims concealed her downcast, black-rimmed eyes. She stopped in the street. Water poured down her hats, splattering fat droplets onto her shoes. She rubbed her eyes until they burned.

“Think,” she said. “Think.”

She felt something; the short hairs on the nape of her neck rose. She turned on her heel.

The blackness was there. It crept towards her, sentient, hungry, writhing like a serpent as it slunk closer. A voice, oily and thick, cut through the air.

“Shane,” it hissed. “Come to us. Be one with us. We understand. We do not judge.”

Part 3: Ken Crump

That voice, she thought, I know that voice!

Slowly the pieces began to fall into place. Shane spun on her heel, gathered her box of books tightly under her arm and strode toward the Cup of Comfort coffee shop at the north end of the block. Her suitcase rolled smoothly through the gathering puddles, making rhythmic “sslack” sounds as it jumped the sidewalk cracks. Halfway there, a wheel caught in a crack, broke off, and rolled into the street. The suitcase reeled and twisted out of her control. Shane stole a look over her shoulder at the suitcase and then back toward the blackness. It still crept toward her. What had she read about the blackness? She squeezed her books closer to her body, and abandoning the suitcase, she walked on.

That box of books was one of her past choices her sister would undoubtedly dissect and analyze again, given the chance. “You paid how much for those?” she had demanded in that I-know-everything voice that only big sisters have. “They’re so old the covers are all bubbly.”

“The covers are not bubbly,” Shane spat. “They’re anthropodermic!” And she immediately wished she could have unsaid it. Her big sister didn’t need to know the books were bound in human skin.

Part 4:  Josh Lumis

“Can I get you something?”

Shane blinked. The barista was looking at her pleasantly. For now. When Shane blinked, something else that wasn’t a barista was smiling at her. It was a smile she had seen before, in the shadows, a dark smiling face with eyes like bruning coals and teeth made of knives. Shane blinked again, and saw more of them. She squeezed her eyes shut and willed herself not to think about the books or the words penned in blood or the macabre images…

“Miss? Are you all right?”

She opened her eyes. She was back in Cup of Comfort. The barista looked more concerned than anything, and Shane tried to smile. It was difficult as the shadows got longer out of the corner of her eye.

“Yes. I’m sorry. I was thinking about my sister. Could I get a cup of coffee, please?”

“Sure.” The barista set about making the drink. “Are you in town to visit your sister?”

Shane swallowed. Her only hope was that, with a few customers in the shop, the darkness would be held at bay, at least for now. She needed time she didn’t have.

“No.” Shane bit her lip. “She’s dead now.”

My addition
"I'll have a double red-eye," she told the young man.

He nodded and winked.  Who winks anymore, she thought, waiting for him to do his coffee-jerk thing.
"Hot now," he told her when he was done.  "Might want to let it cool," again with a wink.

She paid him and turned to find a table.  Juggling her burdens, she stooped to set the box of books at her feet.  When she straightened, Shane saw a ganglia-shaped curl had slopped onto the saucer, only the spilled coffee wasn't behaving like a fluid.  Its shape was that of the innards of a tar-snail, curled and retaining definite surface tension.
Steam, like a morning fog lifted from the mug carrying the odor of something fetid.  Shane gagged and pushed the cup from her.  When she did, the little blob leapt onto her wrist and the steam poured forth to cover the rest of her hand and forearm.
Shane swore then and stood.  Her chair scooted loudly behind her.
"Can't even carry a cup of coffee without spilling it," her sister said.

The barista turned.  The young woman was gone.  She'd left her box of books.  Most were older.  Odd covers too, he thought.

Cancer Update #6 - Nothing Too Clever

Treatment number 12 has been accomplished.  I stand at the finish line for round one with something like I'm not quite sure.  Accomplishment sounds goofy to describe this.  Pride doesn't fit anywhere.  Happiness?  Maybe, depending on what the doctor tells me in two Mondays.  Uncertainty is closer to the mark.  Surprise?  Yes, that sense of awe and incredulity remains.  Thankful isn't bad, but it doesn't cover everything.  I suppose the important fact is I'm still standing.

Just a few points to ponder:
Chemotherapy does not contain radiation.  Chemotherapy contains all kinds of nasty things for the human body, but radioactivity isn't one of them.  Besides, we obtain our daily recommended allowance of radiation from the reactors at Fukushima.  Remember that little deal?  They still haven't cleaned the area, but not to worry.  Hey, who are we to doubt what a government tells its people?  It's not like the earth has a wound with deadly isotopes leeching into the Pacific Ocean every day for the last two years or so.  If the Japanese government says there's nothing to worry about, that's good enough for me.

Number 12 was a particularly nasty energy zapper.  The run, run, run, run, of the holidays didn't help and I'm looking forward to dragging Mr. Tree to the secret Christmas Tree gave-yard where he can quietly turn rust-red and return to the soil.  We purchased a mean tree this year, one with a bad twist at the base.  Yet, would anyone listen to dumb old dad and not buy that one?  Of course not.  But who do they call when he falls over?  Sure, I can stop what I'm doing, refrain from saying, "I told you so," and go fix the problem.
I've been particularly blessed and otherwise healthy during the last six months.  And now, BOOM - head-cold city.  I woke this morning snarling like Gollum, hacking globules of putrid and maleficent yellowness.  My sinuses are blocked like the healthcare website.  I also forgot just how gooood a swig of Nyquil can be.  Yummy stuff that; spoken in that abject manner as only an old problem drinker can.

Staggering numbers of people have cancer.  Two out of five Americans will have some type of cancer in their lifetimes.  The Cancer Center is always full.  Six months ago, I never appreciated what this meant.
Finally for now, there's a group of ladies at the Cancer Center whose job it is to prep people for all types of unpleasantness.  Basically, they pierce the flesh over the port, draw blood, attach tubes, enter data, and when it's all over, they remove the tape and extract the needles.  I say ladies because that's who works in this section of the Center where I go.  Yes, I'm aware mileage may vary and if you think I'm a sexist pig-dog, that's your problem and not mine.  Anyway - these ladies have one of the more thankless jobs of the process.  Day after day they work with an unending stream of people who aren't at all happy to see them.  If you're the praying kind, send up a few words for them.  They're patient, professional, and they usually smile.  I can't imagine doing what they do.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Shibboleth of Symbolism

Question 1:  If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a noise?  How about a big no duh?  The absence of ears to hear does not exclude the existence of sound waves.

Question 2:  If a man is talking and no woman is around to hear him, is he still wrong?  I always thought that one funny.  No comment.

Question 3:  If something is symbolic and no one thinks about what it means, does it still mean anything?

Consider the candy cane - the hook-shaped, pepperminty, hand-held confection of yumminess found often around December (timely of me, no?).  Rumor has it, and I don't know if this is an urban or a rural legend, that that candy cane is not red and white by pure accident, nor is it arbitrarily shaped.  Rather, there is a design behind its design.  The red and white represent the blood and purity of Christ, respectively.  The shape denotes the shepherd's crook; an obvious reference to the shepherd and the sheep.  Get it?  Heard this before?  Ponder it much when you grab a candy cane from the pencil holder at the bank?  They give out freebies this time of year, don't you know?  Crunch 'em if you got em'.

But about the symbolism, do you ponder it when you're unwrapping the noisy cellophane and twisting the cane in your taste-hole to make that pointy peppermint spike of death?  Maybe, not so much, sorta kinda?  The thought crosses your mind occasionally?  But, what do you always do when you eat a candy cane?  Enjoying the freakin' candy cane, that's what!

The peril of symbolism, in writing, is the risk that many (most?) people won't get it.  And of those who do, it amounts to either a 'big whoop' or a 'hey, that's really neato!' on the register of reading motivation.  In other words, a writer who writes to show off his symbolism is something like the writer who wants to show off his punctuation.  How many readers walk away from a story thinking, "Wow, great semi-colons."?  No one has won the Booker, Pulitzer, Nobel, Caldecott, or any other writing award based solely on either their symbolism, or their dynamic use of commas.

Now look - I like me some symbolism.  It's cool.  I think about the flag of the United States.  I think about the cross.  I think about why I used the word shibboleth in the title.  I also think about how literal-minded most of my students are.  Sad, really, that we don't consider the depths of meaning available to us.  But the symbolism isn't the thing.  The thing's the thing.

See, one of the problems is that the average, run-o-the-mill English major (think, person who wants to write) is taught that the use of symbolism in writing is tantamount to genius.  Maybe it is, or maybe said writer didn't have a better story to tell and decided to fill the prose with nouns meant to represent other things.  In this way, the story becomes something of a dense puzzle-box and people can sit around wondering, "What does it mean, man?"  And in the meantime, the fledgling writer focuses on being symbolic (amidst a myriad other literary [pronounced:  lihtoo-raahree, emphasis on the snobbery] devices they've been taught are also tantamount to genius by their English major professors who were, in turn, taught by their English major professors) and if that means the well-told story goes by the wayside, so be it.

Herein is something every writer should consider.  Some, but not very many, people read to admire symbolism.  Preponderantly, and on the other hand, most readers read because they're searching for a nicely written piece of writing.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Another Humorous Essay?

Another semester is rapidly closing.  With it, another humorous essay I write with one of my classes.  It's below, in all of it's wonderful prosiacness.  For regular readers, some of this will look familiar.  It's spliced together with bits & pieces of previous 'Cancer Updates'.  BTW - treatment #11 is done.  I have one more to go and then the bit wait & see.  Anyway, enjoy, or not.  Remember boys & girls, there's funny 'ha-ha' and there's funny, 'hmmmm....'


Colon Cancer: It's Not That Bad

Every other Tuesday for the past six months I've been subjected to forty-six hours of chemotherapy treatment. It’s not a treat the way cookies and brownies are a treat. It’s a treat more along the order of having the toilet overflow. But doctors call it a treatment, and who am I to argue?  Chemicals with names like Oxaliplatin, Leucovorin, and 5-Flourouracil (better known as 5FU… get it?) make up the cocktail I'm given. I've had better cocktails too. Maybe the medical staff should hire a nomenclature expert. But, it is what it is. During said treatments I'm sent home with a Lovecraftian tube sticking out of my chest. After many an abject contortion, I've learned to sleep with this and in the days that follow have soldiered on with an energy drain reminiscent of a flu-whisky hangover combination. In the days of my misspent youth, I was familiar with the former, and everyone knows about the latter.

I'm not sharing this information for people to get all pouty like somebody just stepped on their kitten. Mmm-k? Instead, I'm trying to help people understand that having colon cancer isn't that bad. I mean, it sucks and everything, but I’ve also come to realize a number of benefits have come my way in the last half-year.

For example, I'm in the Cancer Center Youth Group. I get together in the brightly lit activity-room and color bowels and intestines in my official Cancer Center Youth Group color book. Then I get to play games like pin the polyp on the sigmoid. Last week I made a popsicle-cell anemia and three macaroni lymph node magnets for the refrigerator. The teachers smile and make me feel special and give me candy. Then I sit around and talk with the other Youth Group people about how I feel.

Ok, I made all that up, except for the part about sitting around and talking about my feelings with others; maybe that’s why I don’t go. But at 47, I’m usually one of the youngest at the Cancer Center, except for the nurses, and who doesn’t like young nurses?

Another bonus has been the loss of feeling in my fingertips. This is because one of the medicines contained platinum, which is a heavy metal. I never cared too much for heavy metal. But what happens when the human body accumulates too much of certain heavy metals is that it puts on the brakes and tells the central nervous system, "Enough of this. I’m outa here!"

I said contained earlier because on treatment number nine I had what they call one of them there anaphylactic reactions to the platinol (doctor talk for platinum). This included a twenty-minute hot-flash (more on menopause later), the inability to speak, general disorientation, and a really sucky afternoon when thinking coherently was the least of my worries. Next thing I knew I was surrounded by nurses (did I mention they're young and pretty?). One of them tore open my shirt and another fanned me. Then, the head-honcho nurse gave me a giant shot of Benadryl. Long story short no more platinol for me. But getting back to the numbed fingers, I can now take things out of the oven without a potholder and can scrape ice from the windshield with my bare hands. How cool is that? Don’t ask me. Remember, my fingertips are numb.

Then there's this: before I had cancer I could count on one hand the number of compliments I'd received on my physical appearance. That's ok. Manly men don't need that kind of validation. I always did figure my face was more masculine than it was handsome. But since the cancer diagnosis, I can't go anywhere without someone telling me how good I look. Friends, family, church members, and coworkers constantly ask about how I'm doing. Invariably, they follow this up with, "Well, you look good." Or, "You look great." And I'm all like, heck-yeah. Part of me wishes I were single. The point here is to forget botox and cosmetic surgery. If someone wants to improve their looks, they should consider cancer. The compliments just keep on coming.

Then there's the weight loss. This spring I was admitted to the hospital at a portly 184 pounds. Ten days later I left weighing 162 pounds. That's twenty-two pounds in ten days. Jenny Craig? Get out of my face! Biggest Loser? Go suck some wind. Diet pills, flush 'em. America's weight problems could be cured if only more people had cancer. And, during these past six months I've been eating like a freaking horse and I don't mean because I have buck teeth. It's great when the doctor says eat anything, whenever and however much. Today, after a half-year of playing Jack Sprat, I'm tipping the scales at a mere 182 pounds.

Finally, in terms of often overlooked bennies, I've saved the best for last. I discovered this one by a desperate accident. There’s a backstory. At the end of June, one of my wife's friends had the great idea (as only wife friends can) that my wife and I, her and her husband, and two other married couples should take a road trip to a Bloomington dinner theater and see a musical called, "Menopause the Musical." The official website declares the show to be, "The Hilarious Celebration of Women and the Change." Sidebar: why won't dinner theaters do anything like Shakespeare or Sophoclese? I mean, Oedipus Rex had singing. I've heard Cormac McArthy wrote a play. That might be good.

But anyways, I don't know a single man who wants to see a musical about menopause presented by amateurs. Guys, I don't mean to blow the cover, but it's true. And secondly, dinner theater dinner, at least in this tri-county region, is usually a click or two under the mediocre bar. And, more man-secret truth here, the plan for a, "couple's night" is usually nothing more than a thinly veiled, "ladies night" with men along so they can pay.
The men would have sat and nodded and spoken amongst themselves, listening for funny lines so they could later tell other men, "It had some funny parts." Or, "It was ok." Or, "Yeah, it wasn't too bad." They would have smiled saying such things, remembering the rubbery chicken with white sauce and the cold rolls from a bag and the lukewarm peas with pearl onions, and the beasts in their hearts would have growled and grown a little weaker. Oh, the things we do for love.

But, I remembered, barely in the nick of time. I DO HAVE CANCER. My type-3 was going to act up that night. Alas, I was unable to take the drive and would remain at home, alone. At the news, one of the brave husbands volunteered to stay with me. When the ladies saw how two of the men could not attend (one heroically and stoically battling cancer, and the other selflessly giving up the show on a Christian mission to console his brother), they decided a true ladies night would be best. I saved three other men from, "Menopause the Musical."

Like an additional disbursement of grace, I have been given something I call the Cancer Card. And who knows how in the future I may be able to channel the tides of history and further help my fellow men? Perhaps also, if daughter #1 would wash the truck, not forgetting to vacuum the mats, that too would help. Then, down the road, a larger screen to help me see the shows might uplift my downtrodden spirit. Next birthday, maybe a crossbow can take my mind off things. Of course, the Cancer Card, like all special cards, should be judiciously used. There's nothing worse than an overplayed special card. But, for those thinking of getting cancer, don't overlook this silver lining.

And by now, the intrepid reader may think me simple-minded and unaware the seriousness that besets me. May I allay those concerns? In December I will be finished with my first twelve treatments of chemotherapy. In January there will be scans and blood tests and who knows what. At the end of these, the doctor will tell me one of three things.

First, the cancer may be done. This has been my prayer all along. If this is the case I'll have the first of a year's worth of three-month checkups for more test and scans, and who knows what. The longer it doesn't return, the greater the odds it will not. The second thing the doctor might tell me is that the cancer is still there, no worse than it was. This will mean six more months of chemotherapy; rinse and repeat as necessary. The third thing the doctor may find is that the cancer has spread. This is not good for the home team.

But until then, no one knows. These are the thoughts that concern me most at night, after the lights are out and I stare at the ceiling trying to go to sleep. It’s true, cancer is not the zany, whacky disease many think it to be. But…

My approach has partly to do with the people I meet at the Cancer Center. I don't know how the elderly do this. Remember, I’m in the youth group, with relative health and reserves that many of the elderly no longer possess. Yet many, not all, of them smile and talk and carry their banners forward the best they know how. When the pretty nurses call my name for my next turn on the chemotherapy chair of funness, and I say to no one in particular, "Once more into the breach," these older people smile and some of them laugh. A rare few get the Shakespeare reference.

It's the younger patients whom seem the most aggrieved. They have darkness around their eyes and stare vacantly into tablets and cell phones. They carry damp Kleenex in their pockets, dab their eyes and noses, and seldom speak.

These are the two paths. I'm merely following the examples of the elders.

Flash Fiction Challenge - Part 3

From last time - the challenge posited over at terribleminds is to first write 200 words of the beginning of a story.  The second part is to pick someone else' story and add 200 words to it.  This is to be done for five weeks.  Here is the third story I picked:

A Million Cats:

Part 1 by Rebecca Douglas:

Part 2 by Connie Cockrell:

Part 3 (my addition):

Six types of burned tape later, and Keelan not remembering those doomed for not remembering history, I unstrap myself and handhold to the tool closet, next to the cargo’s vapor-lock.  That’s where the real nightmare began.  There’s a certain fragrance wafting past the three layers of polymer-aluminum seals.  Plastic baggie of red electrical twist-caps in hand, I make it back to the cockpit.

Keelan looks up, preparing yet another type of tape for the splicing.  I hand him the caps and ask, “Smell anything?”
He smiles.  “Just burnt tape.  What’s up?”

The question lingers as I buckle in and run a quick ambient contaminant scan.  Sure enough, we’ve got an increasing level of uric acid, sodium chloride, male cat steroids, and several unidentified detoxified substances.  I point to the screen.

“What’s FUS?” he wants to know.  Keelan never reads the fine print; always quick to say he’s the idea man.  Sometimes I want to strangle him.
“Feline Urinary Scent.”  I leave it at that.  The projection trend shows we’ll need air-masks by the time we arrive at Exillion, assuming drive fires in the next several minutes.  We’ll need new air filters and a fumigation of the entire ship.  Credits, schmedits!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge - Part 2

Ok - the last post was the first 200 words of start of a story I wrote.  NOW THEN - what's next are the first 200 words of a story someone else wrote, followed by my addition.  There are going to be five of these in total.  Enjoy:

Part 1 (original, not mine - but available here):

Lee’s seen a lot of terrible things in her day, but this is the worst.  She can’t exactly put a finger on why it’s the worst; she’s seen more gory, more brutal, more degrading.  But this one makes her knees weak and her gorge rise and the skin on her face crawl.  This one just about sends her vomiting in a corner like the rookie who just dashed outside. 

It’s the nails.  Long nails, their round, waffle-patterned heads out of balance with the length of their bodies.  A number of them are drowning in the pool of spilled blood like teeth knocked loose in a fight.  More tumble out of upended boxes near the corpse. And fifty-six of them are buried in the corpse itself.  Some deeper than others. Some are reduced to dark circles on his skin, weird birthmarks; others turn him into the world’s biggest voodoo doll.  No part of him has been spared.  Lee shudders.  There are signs of struggle, but mostly in the immediate area around the body.  Like someone sat on him and just started hammering.  Patiently, carefully, nail after nail. 


Lee’s almost glad to see that Charlie’s as pale as she is.

PART 2 (my addition):

The nail gun didn't make sense, 400 PSI concrete nailer to be exact.  Charlie found it in the plastic case, bloody tip, no prints, next to a belt-sander and an upended circular saw.  "Everybody," Charlie tells Lee, "knows nail guns are belt-fed, canister-fed, spring-loaded.  Automated is the word."  Lee looks puzzled.  "Or maybe girls don't know these things."  He tries not to look at the body as he tells her this.

"Whatever," she says.  And the boxes of nails?  Single-shot hatred.  Somebody really didn't like the guy.

The only good news was the deposit receipt from Karls' Rentals on Alpine.  Looked like Karl was out $135, minus the damage deposit.  Alpine's a borderline street.  On one side the houses are nicer and the lawns are mowed.  On the other side, graffiti crawls up alley walls like new ivy.

The shop has a bell on the door and bars on the windows.  A nuanced odor of oil, electrical tape, and old man lingers about the place.  A retiree with a white mustache sits behind the counter on a gunmetal colored stool.  He looks up from a suduko booklet and asks, "Help ya?"
Lee shows him the receipt and asks about the nail gun.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Delmer's Fiddle

This here is a start of a short-story experiment I'm doing as part of a challenge over at Terrribleminds (Terribleminds contains some cussin' so don't go there if that bothers you).

Little Delmar played his fiddle and the clean lonely sound of it filled the house.
Momma called him scrawny with his skinny arms like the frame of a homemade kite and his shoulders that tilted in impossible ways.  That’s what caught him and held him back that night.

After momma tucked him under the quilt, he snuck outside through the kitchen door to go to the pond and try to catch something.  What he sought on these excursions varied; sometimes frogs, sometimes fireflies.  Once, he snuck out to see the box of still blind kittens on the other side of the carport, near the brick pile.
But that last time, momma’d locked the door and Little Delmar, forever so named, stuck his head and twisted his spine just so to go through the doggie door.  He’d done it before.  But momma heard him.

She grabbed the claw hammer from under her mattress and ran down the hall, her nightgown flapping like a great and terrible angel.  Delmar tried backing out and got his neck caught on the heavy plastic flap.  In the dark, momma threw the hammer and knocked a nice chunk of the boys’ skull out of place.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Writing With Others - Probably Part 1

In 1978, ancient history I know, Robert Asprin began a series of books known as the Thieves’ World Series.  No, they were not about Washington D.C.  Rather, each book was a collection of short stories by different writers sharing a fantasy setting wherein the writers could utilize the characters the other writers created.  If memory serves, the only caveat to using another writer’s character was that the ‘borrowing’ writer couldn’t kill a character he or she hadn’t created.

Along similar lines is the duo of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (think end of the world, Lucifer’s Hammer, and elephant-faced space aliens, Footfall).  Neil Gaiman also comes to mind as someone who has worked with many other writers on lots and lots of projects.

In my less spectacularly-successful world, I drive students to the group writing project.  I save this towards the end of the semester when the chaff has drifted from the classroom.  Nothing is worse than the ‘superhero’ saving the group project while the knobs receive the shared grade.  Students know this.  They have a history of group-work slurry that has left a bad taste in their mouths.  This is mostly because they are thrown into the group project arena and no one offers to share, exactly, how do conduct a group project, let alone how to write a document with one or more human beings.  Nor have they been given the liberty to hold one another accountable.

A small, good thing about writing with others is this accountability.  There are deadlines and non-classroom bound writers tend to feel at least a teency bit guilty at letting their partner down; would that I could say the same for the students.  Plus, people who want to write also appreciate a good deadline.  It’s a goal, like writing 50,000 words in the month of November is a goal.  Deadlines are goodness.

Nor is this an academic exercise.  Meaning, it’s not just something for the classroom.  The world collaborates and that’s how stuff gets done.  Even Ted Kaczynski relied on the Postal Service to deliver his diatribes and nail-bombs, while it also seems like it’s the always the quiet neighbor who keeps to him-self that is involved in the mall-shooting.  Nor do I confine the lessons to typical classroom activities.  You see, I haven’t always been a writing instructor.  I have other irons in the fire, have pursued sales leads, managed software projects, hired & fired, conducted reviews, and played Dungeons & Dragons (a collaborative effort if ever there was).

That said, writing with other humans goes against the grain, does it not?  Consider the lonely writer; isolated at the screen, researching, and generally making up stuff.  Writing magic happens alone.  That’s one of the complaints.  Where is the feedback?  Where is the sounding board?  How can a writer find someone willing to read his or her material before it’s ready?

This is one of the bigger bonuses of writing with someone else.  There is immediate feedback. The audience is in place, and egos aside, they review one another’s efforts well before the material hits the grade-book or the submission-letter fan.

Yet, difficulties remain.  Many group-project documents I receive have a patchwork quilt feeling about them.  After thirteen plus weeks of reading each student’s writing, I can tell where one writer’s efforts end and another’s begins.  I’m talking about the writer’s voice, tone, vocabularies, sentence structures, and not about the self-editing that doesn’t always occur (and please, run spell-checker because it’s free).  We all know writing with others is more than a simple copy & paste.

One goal of writing with others is to prepare a document (short story, novel, cookbook, stupid Composition 1 paper, etc…) that is seamless.  The work of many should appear unified in both scope, purpose, and daresay, style?  That’s debatable, but there is probably a reason Faulkner never wrote a story with Hemingway.

True collaboration means both writers have something in mind prior to beginning and that they are willing to work towards those goals.  Enter the classroom thesis, the main idea, the point being proven, the mountaintop of the effort and that annoying thing I ask about before they continue.  For example, if student A wants to write about how text books cost too much and student B wants to write about how text books don’t have enough pictures and the words are too big, there’s a problem.  It’s time for them to refocus and someone is going to have to compromise.

And if neither student wants to compromise, this is a good clue that, perhaps, the effort won’t go so well.  The advice here is to make sure you and the person you are collaborating with are on the same page.  If not, why bother?  You’ll only aggravate one another and that’s not goodness.  Here’s a really funny link to illustrate.

In collaborative fiction, the scope and purpose is not so neat.  I mean, story writers don’t begin with an iron-clad thesis.  They have a plot and they have characters, maybe.  Sometimes they just have an idea or a situation.  I mean, there are almost always characters but sometimes the plot is not in place at the start.  That’s ok.  I’ve just about made up my mind that characters drive the plot and not the other way around.  Otherwise, the story is stilted and forced, and the only thing that should be stilted and forced is a national healthcare service – right?!

But, with only the bare bones of the idea in place, the writing team has to plan what they are trying to accomplish.  And planning is half the fun.  Think brainstorming, like what if there was this guy who fell into a portal to another world when he reached too far into his clothes drier?  Yeah, and what if a centaur found him and decided to take him to the centaur-stables to he could scoop poo for the rest of his days?  A situation like that needs to be fleshed out a bit and two brains are often more creative than one.

And, while this was never meant to be an exhaustive analysis of the collaborative writing adventure, even I know that when I start writing about centaur poo, it’s time to take a break.  Even so, there may be a part two to this.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Willful Suspension

Think 1817…Samuel Taylor Coleridge… Kublah Khan… romantic poets addicted to opium.Ok, don’t have to go that far.  But, one idea Mr. Coleridge had, that has stuck with us (when I say ‘us’ I refer only to myself and the guy in the mirror, isn't that right, my precious?) is the ‘willing suspension of disbelief.’

Here’s the full quote from that Coleridgerian best-seller, Biographica literaria or biographical sketches of my literary life and opinions: (Available at Amazon!!!)

"In this idea originated the plan of the 'Lyrical Ballads'; in which it was agreed, that my endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."

Looking at the quote with as little context as possible, because I live in a post-modern world, Coleridge is saying he wrote some poems involving pretend subjects and, that in order to appreciate the poems, the reader has to get over the fact that such pretend subjects don’t exist.IOW – the reader has to willingly suspend their disbelief in order to get down with the ballads.
In order to appreciate the news and what the government says, a person has to willingly suspend their intelligence and lie-detectors; but I digress.
Like say, I write a book about three-legged goblins.Those stuck in literal gear and who cannot shift into pretend will not enjoy said book because three-legged goblins aren’t real.There might even be a segment of society that will read only about the two-legged variety because they are not willing to imagine the three-legged kind.

BUT - writers bank on the fact that a good deal of the genre-reading population will pretend there are three-legged goblins and will buy that book just so they can read about them.  I know a woman who doesn’t like goblins or superheroes or giant robots battling alien sea creatures because they aren’t real.  At the same time she consumes sensitive-bare-chested-stranger-man romance novels at about the same rate she fills the gas-tank on her Prius.  Would that she saw the irony.

Albert Einstein, who was seriously not addicted to opium, said this:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge.  For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”  That…that right there.  Thank you, Einstein, for the clarity.
If it’s good enough for Coleridge and Einstein, it’s good enough for the guy in the mirror.  Creativity is limited only by imagination.  Nor, let us open our scopes, is this limited to the artistes.  Consider that surgery and insurance sales and computer programming and, heck, just about any job out there, uses a good dose of imagination in order to make things better.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cancer Update # 5 - Reactionary

I am in the midst of chemotherapy treatment #9 and am just 24 hours from being unplugged from my side-pump, which I have privately nicknamed something I won’t post here.  To bring everyone up to date, treatment #7 packed a punch in terms of energy drainage (coming second only to treatment #3).  Treatment eight was slower in regaining energy and taste buds.  Also, the day after I was unplugged from #7 my hands and toes were a nice shade of pink (somewhere between mauve and old blood) and feeling in my fingertips remains missing.  This will grow worse but, I am assured, the feeling will return, probably.  Number nine hasn’t been so bad, aside from the usual energy drain.

I’ll also mention I had my first reaction to a treatment.  Yesterday at the cancer center, on the last little baggie of poisonous-to-me cancer killer juice, my fingers began to have pinpricks, then my feet.  Then I had a fifteen minute hot-flash, some trouble breathing and my tongue suddenly felt two sizes too big.  By this time I figured I ought to get a nurse involved.  They turned off the little baggie, fanned me, and gave me a supra-shot of Benadryl.  I think it was Benadryl; then again I wasn’t thinking very clearly at the time.  When things calmed down I had to wait for 40 minutes and assure the nurse I was capable of driving myself home.  In the meantime, I was told I had a typical reaction and the culprit element in my chemotherapy cocktail will be changed for the last three treatments.  When the nurse was finally convinced of my sound-mind and dexterous self, I was free to go.  On the way out I pretended to stumble for a few steps in front of the nurses’ station.  They didn’t appreciate that very much at all, but I thought it was funny.

p.s. -- In October I’ve had 417 original page views.  That’s a new record.  Woo-hoo!

Monday, October 21, 2013

I think that people nowadays...

The following is not an indictment of those doggonekids.  Rather, think of it as a statement about the system (public schools) producing them.

There are three neurotic elements prevalent in college freshman and sophomore writing.  I hear tell they exist in upper-classmen (classperson?) essays, but since I don’t teach at that level, I’ll stick to familiar territory.  Just call me Mr. Anecdotal.
First, without exception, students are hyper-vigilant about informing the reader that what they write is their opinion.  “I think that…”, “It seems to me…”, and “In my opinion….”, preface most statements.  When the young writers make a claim of value or policy about pert-near any topic, there is a fear or underlying concern that what they write will be taken seriously.  So, to soften the ideas, they let the reader know it’s only their opinion.  It is as though claiming anything demonstrable or conclusive should be approached timidly, if at all and, by golly, I’ll keep the backdoor unlocked if I have to make a quick getaway when someone challenges my assertion.  This reminds me of certain Woody Allen movied characters.  I’m seeing Leonard Zelig’s (Zelig) uncontrollable mimicry of the people surrounding him, or half of Alvy’s statements in Annie Hall.  Esoteric film references aside, the students will not draw attention to broad statements and observations and are very deliberate about noting the exception to every rule, while unlocking their mental escape hatch with the ever present, “I think that”.  I almost always cross out the offending lines and tell the writers that since their paper has their name on it I know I am reading their opinions.  Otherwise, they should introduce and then cite their sources like good little researchers.   Besides that, if a reader is convinced about one of their statements, then the writer wins.  Let the mushy-headed reader remain mushy-headed.

The second predominant concern of these students is to couch their writing in today’s world.  The reader must be reminded that what they are reading applies to today’s world, people nowadays, and in present times.  It is very important I not slip into thinking they are writing about the 1880s, or the 1970s (their grasp of both eras equally vacant).  But, isn’t it true, that to wake up in the morning is to wake up in nowadays?  Today is my default setting and I have yet to slip through the time-stream portal mistakenly thinking right now is twenty or thirty years ago.  Unless the students are writing about something historical, there is little need to remind the reader that they have returned to the current era.  But the here and now must be proclaimed, usually early in the essay.
Then there’s a third little nuance, juxtaposed oddly against the first; it is the fear of bias.  Not as prevalent as the first two habits of non-mind, I’ve had many talks with students who are afraid they are bringing their biases into their writing.  This fear is expressed in quick conversations, usually at the end of class or during a rare office visit.  They bring in their opinion papers and want to know how they can write without bias.  Alas… isn’t that the purpose of an opinion paper?  I explain to them how bias is like going to a ball game and rooting for their favorite team, about how everyone has bias, and about how it is their right as  a human being to have an opinion and to proclaim it as logically and coherently as they can.  Yet, the timidity of doppelganger group-think holds them in its spell.  They have opinions, they just don’t want to be opinionated.

Some of this is just habit, a writer’s stylistic fingernail chewing – like the struggle to not use second-person pronouns in formal essays.  I suspect, however, there are deeper causes.  I see these three problems as a subtle and nuanced blend of existentialism and an over developed sense of self-awareness couched in a depleted mattress of, 'This doesn't really matter', coupled with a bouquet of the gold-standard, non-contextualized doggerel-jargon-doctrine, “Judge not.”  (Maybe John 7:24 doesn’t fit so neatly on a bumper-sticker).
My question:  where are the current, bold young writers and independent minds, unafraid to throw their cards, face-up, on the table?  This neck of the woods isn’t producing many.  Mild compliance and vague timidity may be necessary to maintain the current direction; just as smooth edges fit into slots better than sharp corners.   But, this approach will do little towards finding unique thinking.  And maybe unique thinking is what we need.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Fancy Radio Talkin'

So, yeah… I made it on the radio.

The gracious and well-learned Jim Sullivan from Illinois Central College invited me to speak for a half hour on his radio show: Poet's Voices.

And I'm all like, "Heck Yeah!"

Thank you, Jim, for the opportunity. It was a lot fun.

Click the linky above if you like to take a listen.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Same Diner Every Day

Without aspiration
the emptiness shall overtake us
with fattened boredom.
The plates wax cold,
the menu tired;
abbacies of sleep.
Grinded down,
sipping poor solutions
and keep an eye on what the other guy had.
The dessert, distraction,
gladdens the face for what's on next,
to tune in the crummy remains;
those uneaten portions
to take home in the box.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Them Old Revision Blues

I revise my work, but not as much as I used to, and I wish I had the universal, 100% unqualified answer so that I might know when to stop revising.  But I don't.  Every once in a while someone criticizes a book by saying it's been overwritten.  I'm not quite sure what that means either.  But, here are a few thoughts I've cobbled together on the topic of revision.

I went to college, ok?  There, I admit it.  I learned some good things and picked up some bad habits (not all of them recreational).

One thing impressed upon me was the idea of revision.  After taking x number of literature courses and x number of writing courses my impression was that a writer has to revise, revise, revise.  But I cannot recall any lessons on how to finish a piece of writing.  And the stories were told about how the great writers worked and worked and worked on that single or double, or perhaps three or four literary masterpieces.  Hence, or possibly ergo, the young writer learned to revise.  But again, no one ever intimated or shared any lessons on how to tell when something was finished.

And so, hi-ho ho-ho, it's off to revise I go.  And revision isn't all bad.

For example, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  That's the month where people sign up on the website and the expectation is that the writer can puke out 50,000 words during that timeframe (Thanksgiving be cursed to the second or third line of a priori).  I've completed NANOWRIMO, twice, and have the brownie buttons to prove it.

What I had at the end of the project was the equivalent of a fresh can of Play-Doh, possibly opened and possibly shaped into the snake or the smooth ball or, flattering myself here, possibly the bowl.  That's about as far as I ever got with Play-Doh.  But what the writer has is 50,000 + words of writing, and it is impossible to revise nothing.

A 50,000 word manuscript, fresh out of the November oven, is major goodness and an accomplishment not many people can enjoy, but it's not finished.  My advice is, after the story is told, put it away on the thumb-drive and don't look at it until, when you read it again, parts of it you cannot remember.  For me, that's about three months.  That's when I'm ready to revise.  And revise I must because it is far easier to begin something (anything) than it is to finish it.

Consider the real word; a landscape vastly different than college.  The worker soon learns the value of the finished product, or soon finds him or herself unemployed.  If the task doesn't get completed, no one is paid (unless you're the President or in Congress).  It's that simple.  The world rewards finishers and would prefer if you kept the revision process to yourself.   The project manager wants to see where you're at.  The boss wants to know when it will be done.

So how many revisions of a piece of writing are enough?  I don't know.  No one does.

But consider, the third of Robert Heinlein's (Science Fiction dude) five rules for writers directly addresses the topic at hand.  He tells us, "You Must Refrain From Rewriting, Except To Editorial Order".  Did you catch that?  Write it and send it out and don't touch it until the person willing to pay asks for changes.

And while the artistes among us will grouse and mumble about prostituting one's art, the more pragmatic who worry about the mortgage payment will understand.  Heinlein was no slouch-wannabe-got-writer's-block-and-would-rather-talk-about-my-writing-than-write.  There's something to his advice.

Then again, J.R.R. Tolkien (Fantasy dude) worked on the Lord of the Rings for decades.  Perhaps that's why we know what Sam and Bilbo had for breakfast every day.

It's a bit of a sweet spot or an intuition, knowing when to be done.  And like I said earlier, my attitude towards revision has changed over the years.  This here little essay, for example will be done very soon.  I started it this afternoon.  I'll go over it once and look for typos and tighten it up here and there, but I'm not going to sweat it out.

A writer has to ask him or herself, how long am I willing to work on one project when I know I have so many other ideas I want to tackle?

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Small Story About Big Things

Tape-Measure got his knick-name when he was very little, about eight or nine.  When he was that age he put a vinyl case on his belt and instead of a cell-phone, which he didn’t have, he carried a tape-measure.

He said he could see the invisible man.  No one believed a word he said.

“I can tell you exactly what is going to happen,” he said.

“Shut up Tape-Measure,” said Clarence.  Clarence was an older boy who said he was going to bust a light-bulb the next time there was a fire-drill.

“You bust that light bulb and you are going to get into trouble.”

“Shut up Tape-Measure,” Clarence said.  “You don’t know nothing.”

At the next fire drill, amid the noise and the students getting into their lines, Clarence broke the bulb on the small lamp that sat upon Mrs. Hendrick’s desk.  Of course Mrs. Hendrick saw, and Clarence was sent to the office.

Tape-Measure was also known to measure people.  Allison, who knew for certain she was four-foot tall, measured to an exact three-foot ten inches.  But after he pushed the button and the measure coiled itself with a snap, Tape-Measure told her, “Not really.  You aren’t really that tall.”

Allison swore at him and the other girls laughed.  Later, in the eighth grade, Allison got pregnant and left school.

Friday, September 27, 2013

CANCER UPDATE #4 - Halftime?

So, treatment #6 is eight days ago.  This puts me over half-way done with the chemotherapy… sorta kinda.  Halftime is a relative consideration.  The prayer and hope is that it’s half finished.  But one never knows.  Cancer is a cloud and walking from beneath is not a simple matter of foreseeable distance.  I won’t know until December if this first round, and what a long round it is, does the trick and/or, at least for a while.  If not, there will be another around and, perhaps, another.

Otherwise, things are the same.  No new side-effects except for this weird toe-blister.  They said splitting and cracking skin on the hands and feet might happen.  I’m hoping it’s just a blister.  And blah-dee-blah-blah…  That’s what I think of this whole deal.   But, hoping it’s half-time and all, I’ll try to be profound, or at least a bit reflective.

For you history nerds, this reminds me of the false peace that descended along the western European lines in late 1939 and early 1940.  The British and French wondered if there would be real fighting or if the invasion of Poland might be it.  So the troops sat there, deployed, playing cards and doing whatever else expectant troops do.  That’s me, Mr. Expectant and hoping nothing further goes on with the deal.  I guess that would make the part of my innards they cut out like Poland.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that there is no end of documents showing the cancer patient when he or she is supposed to die.  Innocuously, the words ‘survivor’ or ‘survivability’ or some derivative appears in the titles.  But, the predictors point in less optimistic directions.  There are bell-curves and rates and all kinds of end-of-the-line statistics.  Imagine a team in the playoffs constantly reading about when they are going to be done and how they won’t make it to the finals.  Such reading cannot be good for the fighting spirit.  I don’t read it any longer.

And then I came to this other realization, born of those vague emotions that sand-blast the heart on the day of diagnosis.  It takes a while to sort things out.  I’m still sorting.  But, here’s the thing:  the cancer patient is ultimately alone.  I mean, they bear the disease by themselves and either maintain or fail to maintain in the wake of the seismic shifts of emotion and spirit.  Yes, there are support groups (I’ve ever been a support group kind of guy) and yes, people are helping, and yes there are family and friends.  I know that.  But I’m talking about those quiet times, after I’ve talked with God for the last time that day (and God is there too, always, but the flesh is very weak at times), and I stare at the ceiling after the lights are out or when I drive along playing ‘what-if’ in my head, not paying attention to the road or much of anything else.  Some days have what feel are a hundred such moments when the isolation cocoons the patient and the tested breaking point is once again stretched.

Finally, remember how Spider man has ‘Spider-sense’?  Like when an anvil is about to fall on his head he dodges out of the way?  I think I’m developing ‘Cancer-sense’.  There have been times when I see a stranger and I’m sure that person has cancer.  We have an odd moment and then quickly slide our gaze to something else.  It may the tone of their skin or the way they walk or some baffled light in their eyes.  I haven’t tested this theory, but maybe I soon will.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Monroe Isadore

In which I grow perilously close to saying something political:

On September 8, 2013, 107-year-old Monroe Isadore, formerly of Pine Bluff Arkansas, was shot and killed by the police.  Mr. Isadore, I suspect you deserved better.
Before I say anything else, I completely understand a 107-year-old person is capable of pulling a trigger and of shooting someone.  I get that.  Thus, the defense of the police goes along those lines.  They were, perhaps, acting out of a protocol or a policy of some sort.  And hey, who doesn’t like a good policy or procedure?  They have their place and benefits.  This seems to be part of the problem, however, because a policy is little more than a way to avoid thought.  Someone enforcing a policy gets a pass and a purpose, all at the same time.  Going by the book is a way of saying, "I wasn't thinking.  I was doing what I was told."
Also, I wasn't there.  I don't know what when on.  But one thing I do know is that we will never hear  Monroe's side of the story.  That's the thing that happens when you are shot and killed, especially by the police.  Your side of the story goes in the casket with you.  Dead men tell no tales.  The sealed police records and the reluctance of the Pine Bluff Police Department to investigate the shooting help this.  Though now, a special prosecutor will investigate.

Apparently, the Pine Bluff officers were called in for an aggravated assault that had taken place in Isadore's home.   In his own home assaulted he them.  Can we think possible self-defense?  And, by the way, hat is off to Mr. Isadore.  I hope when I am 107 I can push two people out of my home if I don't want them there.  The two people were not initially identified, though they had the wherewithal to call the police.  I'm also wondering if they were bothering the man with something like a piece of paper they wanted him to sign, along the lines of, 'It's time for you to stop living by yourself?' and Mr. Isadore just wanted to be left alone and most certainly didn't want to sign that there piece of paper.  We'll probably never know.
Next, when the police arrived and made their presence known, Mr. Isadore shot through the door; fault, Mr. Isadore.  Shooting at the police is something few people live to regret.  The officers called the SWAT team, and what community can do without a SWAT team?  I'm smelling more policy.  The SWAT team is at the residence for some hours.  They use 'negotiating tactics'.  They use a sneaky-snake camera to see Mr. Isadore and that he has a gun.  They try gas.  They try more than one flash-bang grenade.  Mr. Isadore shoots, they shoot, and Mr. Isadore is killed with multiple gunshot wounds, inside his own home.

Again, I wasn't there.  But here are a few things I didn't read about the stand-off.  The two individuals in his home are not identified.  I'm thinking bureaucrats or people Mr. Isadore didn't like (perhaps I repeat myself).   The man had three sons and seven daughters, 27 grandchildren and etc…  As far as we know, the SWAT team did not call in friends or family of Mr. Isadore.  Nor did the SWAT team appear to want to miss supper because, after several hours, they resorted to the gas and the flash-bang grenades.  Why stay up late when you can flush him out?  Never mind the camera that could tell them when Mr. Isadore nodded off.  That would have been the perfect time for the SWAT Ninjas in their black armor and face-masks to subtly enter the residence and go from there.
Again, Mr. Isadore probably deserved better.  Then again, maybe at 107, this is a better way to go out than the nursing home.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Morning Television


Here's  how it ended:  Mel racked the twelve-gauge and blew the television and some of the wall behind it into tiny pieces.  He never could convince anybody about why.  After the evaluation they let him go home, but they kept his gun.

     It started when the handsome morning news show announcer of indiscriminate late middle-age said, "Later this morning, after the break, we'll be interviewing Betty Booboobsky."  Betty was the star in a zany new comedy about drug trafficking and prostitution.  There was a nude scene and they were going to ask her about it.  The announcer told people they didn't want to miss the interview.  The same parent company who owned the morning news show's network also owned the movie company that helped propel Betty to fame.  If she survived, in about six years Betty would bemoan the fact that there were so few roles for mature actresses.  In the meantime, and in the remaining few days before the release of the movie, the viewers at home would be kept up to date on Betty's fashion choices.  Betty would try to help leggings and short scarves make a come-back.  Mel knew the choices weren't really  hers.  Her style consultant received freebies and checks from a clothing designer with tie-ins to the movie producer.
     After the interview with Betty, the morning show had a segment about the dangers from some type of bat in Baja California.  The morning news show went out to the entire nation.  But there was no reason for people in places other than those two towns in Baja California to worry about the bats.  The station pushed fear the way a casino-man pushed plastic chips.  There was a lot of fear in the world that didn't have to be there.
     Mel watched all this thinking about the topics the morning news show didn't report. Why didn't they talk about the NSA an how every email, phone call, and bank transaction from every person in the country were being logged and recorded and, on occasion, simply looked through by some employee somewhere?  And why didn't the morning news mention the spate of mob violence in five major cities over the weekend or about how more people died in the streets of Chicago  during the last three days than American soldiers died during the last three weeks in Afghanistan?  And how come, to hear it from the broadcasters, the nation was in the throes of early 1960's Selma, Alabama-style segregation and racism?  On it went.  These were some of the things Mel knew.
     When Mel told people these things they mostly looked at him and secretly wondered why he was such a critical man and how come he couldn't just relax, even in the mornings.
     He liked it quiet in the morning.  But his wife had it on for the noise; she had to have the noise.  "How about some music instead?"  She ignored him.
     He picked up his plate with the toast and with his other hand carried the cup of coffee to the living room where he could still hear the morning news show but at least he didn't have to see it.  They started an interview with some expert explaining how taxes were going to have to be raised in order to keep critical serves operating for the next five  months.  Mel thought of waste.
     He finished his toast and coffee and returned to the kitchen.  Some boy-band was playing on a stage outside the broadcast studios.  They wore ridiculous fedoras and strange combinations of facial hair.  They dressed in what looked like pajama bottoms and sleeveless vests.  They sang about having sex with teen girls.  The words were a bit lofty, but that's what it was about.
     Mel sat his plate and cup in the sink and went to the bedroom and took the twelve-gauge from under the bed.