MAY 21, 1819: DON’T TAKE ANY WOODEN BICYCLES

DON’T TAKE ANY WOODEN BICYCLES

In 1819, the first bicycle in the U.S. appeared in New York City.  And it started a craze that was to overtake the city for the rest of the summer. Actually it was a sort of a bicycle. It didn’t have any pedals. And you didn’t sit on it. It did have two wheels, but no one called it a bicycle. People variably called it a “velocipede” (Latin for fast foot), “swift walker,” “hobby horse” or its most popular name “dandy horse,” referring to the dandy who usually rode it.

The dandy horse and the craze that it caused had been imported from London, although the contraption was actually invented in Germany. It was propelled by the rider pushing along the ground with the feet as in regular walking or running. The front wheel and handlebar assembly were hinged to allow steering. One major drawback of the dandy horse was that it had to be made to measure, manufactured to conform with the height and the stride of its rider. And it had wooden wheels which were okay for the smooth pavement of the city but any other surface made for an extremely uncomfortable ride.

The dandy horse fad was short-lived. Perhaps it was the constant ridicule or the rocks thrown by ruffians. And with riders preferring the smooth sidewalks to the rough roads, many pedestrians began to feel threatened by the machines. As a result, laws were quickly enacted prohibiting their use on sidewalks.

It was another 40 years before velocipedes came back into fashion – equipped this time around with pedals – when a French company began to mass-produce them. The French design was sometimes called the boneshaker, since it was also made entirely of wood and was still a very uncomfortable ride.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 2 — Opportunity, Knock

The flirtations continued to grow like the frangipani nurtured by the tropical sun until their passions broke the bonds of silence and spilled into the open. Neither Mireille nor Captain Petrullo was surprised that the other shared the same feelings, but each had a different reaction to them. The captain being a forceful military commander wanted to take action, to leap into the fray, to engage those passions as though they were advancing enemy forces that must be physically subdued. Mireille, on the other hand, being the dutiful if not particularly happy wife of another man to whom, no matter how vile he was, she had pledged herself, was determined to hold passion in check, to never speak of it again, let alone take any action.

And so, as the months passed, their affair remained innocent, for even though Captain Petrullo frequently begged leave to sully it a bit, Mireille stood fast in prohibition. But passion contained is not passion extinguished, and theirs continued to smolder,  just short of the flash point, the danger of combustion ever present. To some degree, their innocence was aided by the lack of real opportunity to act without fear of being caught, but fate was not about to let the two lovers go untested. Opportunity, knock.

“Meeting in Port Charles tonight,” grunted Mayor Cervantes one morning. “It’ll go late. I’ll stay the night.” Perhaps if he had just said his piece, had not punctuated it with a loud burp, Mireille would not have decided right then and there duty be damned – passion, I am your prisoner.

Having made this momentous decision and later that morning encountering Captain Petrullo during his strut up Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Mireille informed her lover-to-be. Captain Petrullo was at once as squiggly and squeaky as he had been the day he first saw her. With his head bobbing up and down so fast it might lift him off the ground, he agreed to an encounter that evening – after the Mayor had departed, after it had been dark and quiet for a while.

continued

This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

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MAY 20, 1899: LEADFOOTED IN THE BIG APPLE

LEADFOOTED IN THE BIG APPLE

Jacob German, a New York City taxi driver, earned the dubious distinction of being the first person to be cited for speeding in the United States when he was pulled over for barreling down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. The scofflaw was “clocked” at a speed of 12 miles per hour by a police officer who, with persistent pedaling of his bicycle, managed to overtake him. German was imprisoned in the East 22nd Street station house. He did not have to surrender his registration and license because there were no such things in 19th century New York.

The speed limit was claimed to be (although it was not posted) 8 mph on straights and 4 mph through turns. German was driving an electric vehicle. Records don’t indicate whether or not he was on duty or carrying a fare.

A fair number of drivers have been issued speeding tickets since. The US Census Bureau tells us that 100,000 people per day are cited for speeding in the United States. At an average fine of $150 per ticket, that’s $15 million daily, a nice source of income for various municipalities – particularly in Ohio where the most tickets are issued (followed by Pennsylvania and New York). And certainly an award must go to tiny Summersville, WV. The town, with a population of 3,200, gave out 18,000 to 19,000 speeding tickets annually.

Texas claims the ticket for the fastest speed – 242 mph in a 75 mph zone. That driver was not pulled over by a police officer on a bicycle.

Man Smart (Woman Smarter), Part 1 – Saltwhistle Strut

Captain Petrullo was a very proud man. He had just been placed in full command of the army unit stationed in Passion Point, the third largest town on the entire island – five hundred men, all under his very own command.

If a man were given to strutting to begin with, being in command of a 500-man army unit would certainly encourage him to strut in earnest, which Captain Petrullo did, up Ponce de Leon Boulevard across Saltwhistle Street and back down Citadel Road, two, sometimes three times a day. He would nod with a certain aloofness to those who watched him in awe as he did his turn around the town at a pace that just hinted at military precision.

Since Captain Petrullo was in the habit of being watched, not watching others, he was not prepared to react to spotting for the first time Mireille, the pretty young wife of Mayor Horatio Hornblower Cervantes. (Mayor Cervantes’ unlikely name was the result of the union between his father who claimed to be descended from the Spanish writer whose name he bore and his mother who claimed to be related to the English admiral, not realizing, perhaps, that he was a fictional character.) The mayor had married the lovely Mireille before she was old enough to know better. In her youth, she had been seduced by the stature of the office, overlooking the stature of the man, which was less than impressive by almost any yardstick. In fact, the man was vulgar when not in the public eye, his eloquent words giving way to a vocabulary of grunts and wheezes and snorts. All in all, the marriage was not a source of profound satisfaction for Mireille.

When Captain Petrullo first saw Mireille, his military veneer went AWOL, and he trembled as if he were the lowliest recruit in his own 500-man army unit. His gait became awkward as he passed her; when he tried to nod, his head danced on a rubber neck; and when he tried to greet her, his voice squeaked. The poor man fled up Ponce de Leon Boulevard as though he were being pursued by a 500-man army unit, not commanding it.

But the captain was a resilient man, and by the very next day, he was back to strutting. During his second strut of the day, he once again saw the woman who had done him such damage the day before. But he steeled himself for their encounter, and as they passed each other, they exchanged smiles. As the days passed, further smiles were exchanged, then words of greeting. Words of greeting grew into conversations, and the conversations became more personal. The words they dared not let enter their conversations were in their eyes, in looks that probably should not have been exchanged between the captain of a 500-man army unit and the wife of the mayor.

continued

This story  is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

February 2, 1887: The Shadow Knows

The first weather forecast by a rodent meteorologist took place on groundhogFebruary 2, 1887, in the metropolis of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. His groupies, members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, in an effort to stifle all competition, declared that Phil (for that was his name), the Punxsutawney groundhog, was the one and only true weather-forecasting groundhog in all of North America. Pay no mind to those wanna-bes like Birmingham Bill, Staten Island Chuck, or Canada’s Shubenacadie Sam. Phil’s original prediction has been lost to history, but it was either six more weeks of winter or an early spring.

As a celebrity, Punxsutawney Phil can be temperamental, occasionally biting or scratching an adoring fan if given the chance, but Phil’s rude behavior doesn’t hold a candle to that of Staten Island Chuck. Sure New Yorkers are accused of being rude and Staten Islanders are certainly outliers — but biting the mayor that feeds you is a bit over the top.

The lucky mayor was Michael Bloomberg, the occasion was Groundhog Day 2009, and some would say it was the mayor’s own fault. Practically anyone, groundhog or otherwise, would not enjoy being roused out of a deep sleep at seven in the morning and asked to pontificate on the weather. Chuck wasn’t up for the celebration and the mayor was just a little too persistent, so of course Chuck bit him. Wouldn’t you?

Later in the day, Mayor Bloomberg, his left finger bandaged, was keeping mum. “Given the heightened response against terrorism, and clearly in this case a terrorist rodent who could very well have been trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, I’m not at liberty to say any more than that,” the mayor said.

 

coconut womanPart 3

Harriet studied the two men. She was an outgoing and trusting lady, but she was no fool, and she didn’t want to get stiffed for a night’s rent even if the New Orleans Suite was between guests this particular night. Nor did she want any of her semi-precious belongings spirited out during the night. As if sensing her apprehension, the shorter man produced a handful of twenty dollar bills as an unspoken offer of payment in advance, something Harriet couldn’t have brought herself to ask for but was more than willing, in this particular case, to accept. “The New Orleans Suite is available this evening,” she said, “Would you care to look it over. Some folks find it doesn’t fit their taste.”

“No need to ma’am,” the man answered. “We’re very tired. Won’t be doing nothing but sleep and we’ll be out right early.” He smiled at her, eyes twinkling. “So we really don’t care about ambiance.” He pronounced the word perfectly. “And what do you charge for your New Orleans room?”

“Ninety dollars,” said Harriet. “That includes a full breakfast.”

He counted out five twenties and handed them to Harriet. “Here you go. But I’m afraid we’ll be skipping breakfast. We’ll be leaving at the crack of dawn.”

“In that case, I’ll make it eighty,” said Harriet, handing back a twenty.

“If you insist,” said the man with another of his disarming smiles.

Harriet dug the key out of her pocket and handed it to him. ” It’s through that door and to the right. Hope you have a pleasant sleep.”

“I’m sure we will,” said the shorter man turning. The other man smiled for the first time as he turned to follow his partner. He was missing a tooth.

Harriet, sensing that the young couple were uneasy about sleeping under the same roof with the two strangers – the young woman was, in fact, certain they’d all be murdered in their sleep – said: “We get a lot of sailors and fishermen here. They pretty much keep to themselves. You know, aloof. But if you ever get them talking, well honey, they can really spin some stories. Too bad they’re not staying for breakfast. You’d get a pretty good picture about this part of the world.”

Harriet’s cheerfulness calmed the young couple and a few moments later they sought the privacy of their room to do fifth anniversary things. Malachi finished his beer and headed off down the road to his own apartment over Gunny’s Restaurant. Everett scribbled in his spiral notebook for a while, then made for his loft, where he would probably punch numbers into his pocket calculator for a good hour before going to sleep. Harriet mixed a batch of muffin dough, refrigerated it, and returned to the porch where she sat staring at the starry sky and swaying with the steady lapping of the surf. She loved this porch; she loved this place. She realized sitting here that this place was more important than any silly pirate treasure, even if she believed in such a thing, which she didn’t. Finally, she reluctantly quit the porch and went upstairs to bed.

She slept in spurts. More than once she thought she heard noises above the natural rhythm of the night but when she listened carefully, even sitting right up once, she heard nothing, and she went back to sleep. Asleep, she dreamed about the man with the missing tooth. He was carrying water up the beach and pouring it on her porch. And then there were two of him, four of him, eight of him, just like the brooms in Fantasia. The water was up to her knees when she woke up to sunshine.

She shuddered at the nightmare, dressed quickly and hurried to the New Orleans Suite. The men were gone, and the only mementos of their stay were an empty whiskey bottle in the garbage can and a Fats Waller record out of its jacket on the floor in front of the stereo. Otherwise the room was perfect; they had even made the bed. She went back to the kitchen, poured herself a glass of half tomato juice half Bloody Mary mix, put the coffee on, beat ten eggs, and whipped up some Hollandaise sauce, all the while singing it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, a case of do or die; the fundamental things apply, as time goes by.

Breakfast preparation complete, she walked around to the front of the house, picked up the newspaper and headed for her spot on the porch to wait for her guests to arise. What she found on the porch was not her favorite chair; that had been tossed into the hibiscus bush. What she found were weathered boards strewn for ten feet around a yawning hole in the ground where her porch had been the night before. She stared into the hole in disbelief. At the bottom of the whole, she spotted indentations in the dirt suggesting that something heavy and rectangular had been sitting down there.

Then she spotted a coin at the edge of the hole. She reached down and picked it up. It was gold, and it had Spanish words engraved on it. She stared back at the hole then studied the coin again. Laughing, she said aloud: “Poor, poor Malachi. He won’t be a happy man.”

She pushed the coin into her pocket and went inside. After calling the carpenter, she returned to the kitchen where she put the muffins in the oven and wondered, just briefly, if the floorboards beneath her weren’t a little spongier than usual.

 

Coconut Woman originally  appeared in Tampa Tribune Fiction Quarterly.  It is one of the 15 stories included in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean.

 

February 1, 1896: Poor People of Paris

Opera patrons packed the Teatro Regio in Turin, Italy, on the evening of February 1, 1896, for the world premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s latest, La Boheme. Conducting the evening’s performance was a rising young star, Arturo Toscanini. Critics were divided over the opera, but audiences lapped it up, and it remains the world’s most popular opera. It is a timeless story of love among struggling young artists in Paris during the 1830s.

Our Bohemians– a poet, a painter, a musician and a philosopher — share a garret in the Latin Quarter as they try to eke out a living. It’s Christmas Eve; it’s cold. Rodolfo, the poet, and Marcello, the painter, are feeding a small fire with one of Rodolfo’s manuscripts. Their two companions arrive with food and fuel, one having had the good fortune to sell a bit of music. As they eat and drink, the landlord comes looking for their overdue rent. They distract him with wine and, pretending to be offended by his stories, throw him out. The rent money is divided for a night out in the Latin Quarter. Rodolfo stays behind as the other three leave, fortuitously, as a pretty neighbor comes looking for a light for her candle: “They call me merely Mimi.” Merely Mimi faints (she’s not well, folks), she and Rodolfo immediately fall in love, and they head off to the Latin Quarter, singing of their love.

In Act 2, our Bohemians are making merry in the Latin Quarter. Marcello’s one-time sweetheart, Musetta, enters on the arm of the old but wealthy Alcindoro. Trying to get Marcello’s attention, she sings an aria about her own charms (Musetta’s Waltz, recorded as Don’t You Know by Della Reese in 1959). She sends Alcindoro off on a bogus errand and promptly leaps into Marcello’s arms. They all scurry off, stiffing the returning Alcindoro for the check.

Act 3 brings a series of flirtations, jealousies, lovers’ quarrels and, for Mimi, a lot of coughing. At this point, we’re pretty sure she’s not going to make it through Act 4.

Which she doesn’t. After a few attempts at being cheerful, the others leave Mimi and Rodolfo who recall their meeting and happy days together until Mimi is overtaken by violent coughing. The others return, Mimi drifts into unconsciousness and dies.

Enrico Caruso owned the role of Rodolfo during his life, as did Luciano Pavarotti. And Maria Callas was all over Mimi.  The Metropolitan Opera will broadcast La Boheme live in HD on February 24.

 

coconut womanPart Two

Everett and Malachi were both there that evening in March when Harriet entertained the young couple from Ottawa, here for their fifth anniversary. As usual, Everett was explaining to the newcomers his settling-land-rising-water theory.

“Now if you was to come back for your tenth anniversary,” said Everett, scratching furiously with a stubby pencil in a tiny spiral notebook, “the water’d be right up to here.” He held his outstretched hand between his nose and upper lip. The young woman from Ottawa looked at him and gulped as though she were already threatened, since a water level just below Everett’s nose would be well above hers.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Everett continued. “And not very much time at that. The forces of nature move ever and evermore onward.”

“Honey, you know that can’t be true,” said Harriet. It wasn’t clear whether honey was Everett or the young woman from Ottawa. “It’s like the ozone layer and global warming and such. Scientists scribble in their little notepads just like Everett here, and they come up with statistics to prove whatever they think needs proving. Now, if I was to get up at say seven in the morning, and it was say forty degrees out, but it got up to eighty by noon, I could scribble in my little notebook and come up with a theory that by five o’clock it’d be a hundred and sixty degrees, now couldn’t I?”

The young woman from Ottawa giggled a little, and her husband smiled. Everett glared, snorted and said: “It ain’t that simple, and you know full well, Harriet.”

“Well, maybe not,” said Harriet. “But Malachi’s ideas are pretty simple, aren’t they Malachi? When you going to start in on them?”

“I don’t know if it’s something I should talk about,” said Malachi, studying the couple from Ottawa.

“Why not?” asked Harriet. “You’re always talking about your pirates.”

“But lately I been wonderin’ if maybe too many people are gettin’ to know about it.”

“I’d say the more people the better,” Harriet teased. “If we’re gonna find that treasure, honey, we got to get serious looking before it’s all under water.” She hee-hawed and slapped the arms of her rocker. The couple from Ottawa joined in but only with polite little laughs that wouldn’t offend the two men and their theories.

“Henri Caesar was a pirate that learned his trade from the infamous Lafitte brothers,” said Malachi suddenly, evidently seeing his window of opportunity swinging shut. “Cruel, cruel he was. Plundered for nearly thirty years before they hanged him. Hundreds of ships. I’ve studied him a lot, and I’m certain that he buried some of his treasure around here, possibly on this very beach. Half mile south of here they found an old grave. Caesar usually killed his victims, all of them, right on the ship, except certain young women he took a fancy to. If they refused his advances, he’d kill them too. But if they accepted, they were spared, at least until he grew tired of them. They found one of them in that grave. At least part of her.”

The young woman from Ottawa, white-faced and wide-eyed, winced and said: “My goodness.”

“And in nearly two hundred years,” Harriet scoffed, “nobody has been able to find that treasure. But Malachi’s going to find it before this place becomes an aquarium.”

Harriet’s debunking of the Malachi treasure myth was interrupted by the appearance of two men whose arrival was so silent and sudden that it caused the young woman from Ottawa to let out a tiny shriek and Harriet herself to jump slightly. They were both rumpled and shaggy, though not dirty. The tall one could have passed for a pirate and probably was in the eyes of the young woman from Ottawa. The shorter, clean-shaven one spoke in a studied, polite, but somewhat gravelly voice. “Good evening, folks. Sorry to disturb you. We’ve tied up at the harbor down the road for the night. Headed to the out islands tomorrow morning. Gentlemen there said you were the closest place that took in folks for the night, and we were wondering if you might have a room available.”  continued

 

Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.

January 31, 1990: Next Day on Your Dressing Room They’ve Hung a Tsar

mcdonalds-russiaContinuing severe economic problems and internal political turmoil took a backseat on January 31, 1990, as Muscovites lined up to try a most unRussian guilty pleasure. The Soviet Union might be crumbling around them, but that icon of Western decadence, purveyors of glasnost on a sesame seed bun, was riding high. McDonald’s had come to town.

Those Big Macs, with fries and shakes might cost a day’s wages, but the people of Moscow were eating them up. The notorious golden arches of capitalism were signs that times they were a’changing in the Soviet Union – in fact, within two years the Soviet Union would dissolve. A Soviet journalist saw no great political earthquake but rather an “expression of America’s rationalism and pragmatism toward food.” Could the Quarter Pounder be the ultimate example of the People’s Food?

Whatever it was, they took to it in Moscow like a Bolshevik takes to a putsch. Located in Pushkin Square, this McDonald’s was the world’s largest, boasting 28 cash registers and a seating capacity of 700. Its opening day broke a McDonald’s record with more than 30,000 customers served. It remains the world’s busiest McDonald’s, serving more than 20,000 customers daily.

Moscow resident Natalya Kolesknikova told Russian State Television that when out-of-town guests came to visit, she showed them two things, McDonald’s and the McKremlin.

 

coconut woman Harriet Forrester was no fool. For one thing, she gave no heed to Everett Limpole’s bodeful warning that this stretch of beach would be completely underwater within five years – four-and-one-half feet below sea level in 1,856 days, to be exact – a prediction he reiterated after each session of poring over a loft full of books and charts, in a loft owned by Harriet for which Everett promptly paid the first of every month. Harriet Forrester was no fool.

Nor did she pay much attention to Malachi Thorpe, an Everett Limpole cohort, who had his own set of books and charts, with maps as well, but an entirely different hobbyhorse – namely, that the pirate Henri Caesar had plundered these parts and that some of his treasure lay buried and still undiscovered, possibly on this very beach. Malachi also accepted the Everett Limpole rising ocean scenario, thereby giving a certain sense of urgency to his treasure hunt. Harriet Forrester did not share either his belief in pirate treasure or his urgency. She was no fool.

Harriet did, however, have her own hobbyhorse, the Coconut House – her bed and breakfast inn, her first love, her world. It sat right on one of the prettiest beaches on the entire island against a backdrop of sea grapes and frangipani. It had, in addition to the Limpole loft, which brought in just ninety dollars a month (but steady, month in, month out), three small suites that fetched ninety dollars a night, albeit more sporadically.

Harriet’s rental units had become microcosms of her own ideas, travels and interests. The Casablanca Suite revolved around its ceiling fan. Persian and Oriental rugs were scattered over a tile floor and, in some places, up the walls; fifty-four strings of bright beads served as the bathroom door; a jeweled music box played a tinny version of As Time Goes By; and portraits of Bogart, Bergman, Greenstreet, and Lorre were simply framed and grouped on one wall, looking very much like members of the family. The New Orleans Suite was all that jazz, from a 1980’s stereo flanked by a vinyl who’s who of the Dixieland world to the trumpets, trombones and banjos Harriet had rescued from pawnshops and second-hand stores. And the Coconut Suite looked as though the Marx brothers had washed up during high tide.

Despite detailed literature warning what one would encounter at the Coconut House, guests would often arrive only to refuse to stay in any one of the three rooms. It didn’t bother Harriet any. It was her place, and if folks didn’t like it, they weren’t her kind of folks anyway. And those that did stay loved it, and they came back, and they told friends who came and told other friends, and Harriet kept pretty busy.

Harriet would frequently sit with her guests on the big front porch that faced the beach. There they could talk while waves tumbled in, pelicans cruised in perfect formation inches above the water, and sandpipers darted here and there like tiny wind-up toys. Everett Limpole would more than likely join them, and Malachi often did as well.   continued

Coconut Woman is one of 15 (count ’em) stories featured in Calypso: Stories of the Caribbean. Every story at least 78 degrees Fahrenheit.  Warm up at  Amazon  or Barnes and Noble.  Or order it through you favorite book store.

 

 

Repartee Anyone?

rep·ar·tee

ˌrepərˈtē,ˌrepˌärˈtē,ˌrepˌärˈtā/

noun

Conversation or speech characterized by quick, witty comments or replies; amusing and usually light sparring with words

For example:

“So here we are,” said Huey. “stuck on Gilligan’s Island – Chickenshit Crusoe and his faithless companion, Good Friday.”

“I was a Boy Scout for two weeks,” Paul offered.

“What a relief. And to think I was starting to get worried. But you obviously know how to start a fire without matches, forage for food, and carve a comfortable existence out of the cruel jungle.”

“Well I did learn how to tie a square knot.”

“Well there you are. You little rascals are always prepared, aren’t you? And kind and reverent and true and God-fearing and above all helpful. If we only had a little old lady, you could help her back and forth across the beach.”

“Are you through?”

“Probably not.” She sat down next to him.

“Since we may be spending the rest of our lives together, we should probably learn to be cordial.”

“Sure, I know your type, Crusoe,” said Huey. “First you get a girl stranded on an island. Then you want to be cordial. And then – ”

And then?

 

Protagonist

A protagonist is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama:
Say let us put man and woman together,
Find out which one is smarter (and which is the protagonist)

Paul wasn’t sure, but the five-foot duck waddling through the throngs of laughing, crying, shouting, whining children appeared to be waddling toward him – a duck with a destination and, perhaps, a mission. Chances are it had spotted him scowling in a land where grinning is the norm, and it, by God, meant to do something about it.

“Enjoying the Magic Kingdom?” asked the duck upon reaching him. Despite its carefully sculpted plastic smile, this duck wasn’t going to cheer anyone up; its voice dripped sarcasm.

“Of course, I am,” Paul answered, adopting his very own duck attitude. “Isn’t that why you’re here? By the way, didn’t I somewhere get the idea that you’re all supposed to be pleasant and cheerful?”

“I’m not even supposed to talk. Just wave.” The duck waved and, in silence, could have passed for pleasant and cheerful, albeit of a fabricated sort.

“Then why did you talk to me?” Paul asked.

“Because you look bored – like you positively hate the place.”

“Ah, you’re not just an ordinary duck, you’re a member of the happiness squad, here to lift my spirits.”

“No,” answered the duck. “I thought you might have a cigarette.”

Who’s our protagonist?  Paul?  Huey (the duck)? Or two protagonists for the price of one?  Find out here.

Ask a Silly Question . . .

The following is a recent online interview.  In an online interview, the interviewer and interviewee never lay eyes on one another, which allows them to make obscene gestures at one another.  It has beentypewriter3 lightly edited to make me appear smarter than I am.

What inspires you to write?
I have this insidious little voice inside me. When I read a book, it says to me “Well, why didn’t you write that book?” If I watch a movie, it says “When are they going to make a movie out of something you’ve written?” If I see an interesting person walking down the street, it says “Why wasn’t that guy with an elephant trunk for a nose in your last book?” If I try to take a nap, the voice says “Get up and write or you’ll die.” I don’t pay any attention to the little voice. Drinking inspires me to write.

Tell us about your writing process.
Outlines are amazing. With a good outline, you can move through the creative process like a painted ship on a painted ocean, smoothest of sailing all the way. I wish I could figure out how to do an outline. Whenever I try, it comes back to bite me, or I’ve wandered hopelessly off course by the third page. I guess that makes me a seat of the pants writer, although I try not to wear pants when writing.

typewriter9Do you listen (or talk to) to your characters?
I do, but most of them refuse to talk to me. If they do talk to me, they usually insult me. An author has to learn to take such abuse. However, when one character called me a two-bit scribbler, I killed him off on page 2. You’ve got to let them know who’s boss.

What advice would you give other writers?
Read authors you admire. Read authors you hate. Read. And write. Drink occasionally, but never heavily — unless it’s after noon.

How did you decide how to publish your books?
I suggest exploring the traditional publishing route first. It will clear your head of any notion that this is an easy business or a logical one. The best approach is to find a publishing house that’s owned by a cousin or a brother-in-law. The next best approach is to self-publish.

What do you think about the future of book publishing?
I try not to think about the future of publishing. (I try not to think about the future of anything, actually.) I worry that someday they’ll stop printing books, that books will be electronically downloaded to the back of our eyelids. I guess I worry too much. I try to write instead.

What genres do you write?: Humor, Humorous Adventure, Romantic Adventure, Cocktail Napkin Graffiti

What formats are your books in?: Both eBook and Print

 

Voodoo Love Song is the story of Paul and Huey who go to a sweet, safe place like Disney World and end up getting in a whole lot of trouble.  You can read more about it here.  You can also get it at sweet, safe Amazon for a ridiculously low price during the month of February.

 

Bistro

Louis solemnly marched back and forth between the pharmacy at Number 10 and the tobacconist at Number 14, eyes right, with a deep sigh each time he passed Number 12, the Cafe Victor Hugo. Unlike the doors at Numbers 10 and 14, the door to the small bistro at Number 12 remained unopened, even though it would normally have been open for twenty minutes by now. And by now, Louis would have reached page two of Le Monde, would have finished his jus de pampelmousse, and would be settling into his cafe au lait and croissant. These things were seemingly trivial but they characterized his morning ritual, and rituals should not be kept waiting.

“Where is that infernal Jacques?” Louis demanded of the locked door, of the brick facade, of the sidewalk. Agitation hardened the wrinkles of his face and turned his blue eyes steely. Jacques had operated the Cafe Victor Hugo for twelve years now, succeeding his father who had operated it for as long as it had existed on the boulevard from which it took its name. Jacques was a little young, but he was a good man who ran a good bistro, because he properly ran it the way his father ran it. And he was properly deferential to the old men who sat so often at the corner table, the men he had inherited when he inherited the bistro.

Of the old men, only two remained on this earth. Francois and Emmanuel had both died within the past year, Bertran two years before, and Jean was in an institution unable to move or speak — quite a change, since, for 73 years, he had hardly ever refrained from speaking. Of the group who held sway night and day at the corner table, only Louis and Albert remained. And one day, Louis mused, Albert would be sitting at the corner table without him, or he without Albert. “Such is life,” he said aloud, then caught himself with a little laugh. “Life? Such is not life; such is death. Where is that man? I have so few needs, and yet he would deprive me of them.”

Weekday mornings, the Cafe Victor Hugo was as deserted as the cathedral down the street. The few patrons who sat within silently worshiped their morning papers and sipped their holy morning liquids. In the corner pew, the church elders did not just read their newspapers; they scoured them in a search for indiscretions and transgressions, breaking the silence as necessary to castigate the sinners with a healthy dose of hellfire and brimstone. “That jackal so-and-so has done it again” or “just like the Americans” would occasionally thunder through the bistro, and the simple blessing “merde!” was voiced as frequently as “amen!” at an American Baptist get-together.

Evenings, on the other hand, were not the least bit silent. After a hearty cassoulet or leek pie and several rounds of drinks, a smoky haze would envelope the corner, tongues would be loosened, and the jackals of the morning and anyone else who had crossed the old men during the day would be vilified in earnest.

“Andre the butcher is a criminal of the worst sort,” Albert would say. “The moneychangers driven from the temple were not nearly the usurers that Andre is. Fifty francs for a sausage of less than a kilo.”

“And one must question the parentage of Andre’s sausage,” Louis would add, always ready to goose along a good tirade. “Only God knows what he stuffs into them.”

“Maybe he’s like that Englishman who ground up other Englishmen and stuffed them into sausages.”

“A sausage stuffed with Englishmen wouldn’t be worth half a franc.”

“Vile.”

And then Louis might drag poor Jacques into the fray: “And what’s in your sausage, Jacques. Any Englishmen? Or worse still, Americans?”

“Non, non,” Jacques would playfully protest. “One hundred percent French. And only children. Plump ones.”

But even such a conversational detour into the contents of sausage would not let the poor butcher off the hook. No matter how far the old men wandered, they would eventually return to Andre. “That wife of his cheats on him, you know.” A fairly simple formula controlled the debasement of the day’s villains, for the villains shared certain qualities that must inevitably be addressed. Their credentials as Frenchmen were suspect. They consorted with foreigners, particularly English-speaking foreigners — and possibly shared their blood. Their wives invariably cheated on them, their daughters were wanton, and their sons effeminate.

“Where is Jacques?” Louis shouted at the tobacconist as though he were the man’s guardian. The tobacconist merely answered with an insulting gesture as he always had since the day Louis called him a Vichy whoremaster. “Can the French do nothing on time anymore?” He turned back toward the pharmacy.

In the evening, once the villains had been dealt with, the old men mellowed out on cognac and grew nostalgic for better days. They were prodded on by the old songs that Jacque’s father had first put on the juke box that no longer took money. The great war evoked many of their best memories. Even though they had hated the war when they were young and in it, it had, over the years, become a thing of beauty and pleasure. Their individual little experiences, trivial at best and nasty at worst, had been melded into one unified grand history, one that became grander with each retelling, now a sweet dream of youth rather than the nightmare of carnage it had actually been.

They revered the past, but every day a little bit of it disappeared. Change came without being invited. And with each change, something good was gone forever, until the world had changed so much that it was no longer their world. It was someone else’s world and as foreign as the most remote world in a science fiction story. “Perhaps it’s the way of preparing us to die,” Louis would say. “Making the world a place in which we no longer care to live.”

“Just look at this cafe. Look at the empty tables. People today are too healthy to eat cassoulet, too aloof to share an aperitif. If they go anywhere at all, they go to discos where the music destroys all hopes of conversation. They go to shopping centers where everyone is a stranger. They buy their food to take home, to eat alone. And they watch television or tap those silly little phones. Nobody talks. Nobody relaxes with friends.” And nobody paid much attention to Louis’ lament, except Albert who would nod sympathetically and try to stay awake.

Forty minutes, and still no Jacques. Louis paused at the door to the Cafe Victor Hugo once more, and for the first time he noticed the sign. It was the same sign that had always been there — the one that said the bistro was closed. The other side, the side that should have been displayed, proclaimed the bistro to be open. But something had been hastily printed beneath the word closed. Louis looked closer and saw that the words until further notice had been added.

The sign took his breath away, weakened him. How could this be? Without telling us? This was terrible. He must speak to Albert. A fear suddenly gripped him, and the closing of the bistro took on an even greater and more fearsome significance. He knew everything about Albert, every intimate detail about Albert’s life — everything but what mattered now, his last name, his address, his phone number.

Louis continued to pace, again to the tobacconist, again to the pharmacy, and back to the darkened bistro. He would wait. Maybe Albert would come.

 

This is one of ten stories in the collection Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.  See more here.

Island in the Sun – Conclusion

Read Part One

Several days passed before the bulldozer arrived.  During that time, Santo kept a constant vigil at the olive tree.  During the day, tourists passing by would sometimes stop to talk to Santo.  Most had already heard of the crazy man and his olive tree, but Santo’s disarming smile and his bullfriendliness would make them wonder whether he were crazy or merely a man with a cause, which is hardly so crazy.  Knowing that he remained night and day at the tree, some would bring him food and would sit and talk with him while he ate.

The young couple from the south of England shivered as Santo told them about sleeping on the dock in Trinidad after loading a banana boat and awaking to find a fat tarantula sitting on his chest staring at him.  The three ladies from California gushed over his tales of Spain during the last days of Generalissimo Franco.  And the young Montrealer listened until well after midnight as Santo talked of his time in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion.

The bulldozer arrived early the next morning.  Santo had to shake himself awake, and for a moment, he thought he was awaking from a nightmare in which he was about to be eaten by a huge yellow monster.  But even with his eyes open, the yellow monster remained, growling at him.

“Go away, crazy one,” shouted Luis Jordan from atop the chugging beast. Luis was a young man who had come to the island to do construction work; he didn’t belong on the island.  He was an angry, combative young man, frequently picking fights, and Santo didn’t like him much.  “You don’t think I’ll plow you down, do you, crazy man?”

“I am not crazy,” answered Santo.  “Go away.”

“Don’t be smart with me, crazy man.  You won’t stop me.  I don’t care if you live or die.  You’re trespassing.  I can plow you under and nobody will say anything.  I’ll take down that damn tree, and I’ll take you down with it.  Believe me.”

“I believe you.”

“As you should,” boasted Luis.  “Now stand aside.”

“I can’t stand aside.  This is my place.  It was my mama’s and my papa’s, and it was their mama’s and papa’s.  Go away and leave me alone.”

“I warned you,” said Luis, grinning as though he were really happy that Santo would not move, that he would have the pleasure of plowing him under.  “Good riddance to your lunacy.”  The bulldozer’s engine whined, and the beast lurched forward.  Santo stood his ground as the yellow monster bore down on him, it’s driver laughing.  Santo closed his eyes.

The Crystal Coral Beach Club was a magnificent place.  It straddled a mile’s worth of white sand beach and bathed it in grandeur and opulence.  Open for the first time this season, it was an unqualified success, drawing tourists from throughout the world and remaining fully occupied.  Hopes were high that it would bring years of prosperity to the tiny island.

On this day, the first anniversary of groundbreaking for the beach club, a large throng of tourists had gathered together.  The story of the Beach Club’s shaky beginnings had traveled from the swimming pool to the tennis courts to the lounge and to the bright blue water and back.  This was to be a celebration of that day of confrontation.

The olive tree had grown to nearly ten feet and was beautiful to behold; looking at this tree, it was hardly surprising that so many people considered olive trees holy.  Santo emerged from the modest house just beyond the tree, a house flanked by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and the beach club’s 156 luxury rooms.  Santo the celebrity beamed as he joined the others at the tree and shared a toast with the couple from the south of England, the three ladies from California, the Montrealer, and the others who had been here last year, the ones who had ignored the metallic whine of impending doom to suddenly join Santo in front of his tiny tree, linking their arms with his in defiance of the bulldozer.

With a grin, Santo pointed to where, even though it defied all the rules of horticulture and all the laws of botany (but didn’t surprise Santo or his friends one little bit), a single olive clung tenaciously to a branch of his olive tree.

 Listen to Island in the Sun

“Island in the Sun” is one of 15 stories in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.