A Chorus of Sirens

July 24, 2020

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Everyone, you think, is some kind of addict. Be they active, recovering, or on the brink. Passions which are good become obsessions which are bad. People are self-seeking. This is the human condition, the result of Original Sin. Yearning. Craving. Lusting. Demanding. Wanting. Needing. Soothing. The seeds of addiction are there, have always been there. Many are able to temper these urges, denying the seeds what they need to flourish. But they’re still there. Waiting for a deluge, a perfect storm of misery or even joy… or just another shitty day. Then boom! Out comes the Hagen Das. The lonely housewife turns on the TV and never turns it off. An old man retreats to the garage for a smoke. Some concede to only a few addictions. Maybe they are harmless ones – a gardening obsession, collecting figurines. Or weird: like hoarding. Hidden from the world. In others the seeds erupt as soon as they touch a nerve, like weeds in a vacant lot. Out of control. You’ve met no one who has not succumbed to something. Drugs and alcohol are the poster children for addiction. Plenty else is out there.

What are some of yours?

Author Unknown

July 2, 2020

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You’ve written three novels. After years of toil, most of it pleasurable (an apt definition of writing), enduring countless maybes, the quite interested and even an option from Hollywood, you ended up self-publishing. Not the happy ending you envisioned, with heady book tours and glowing reviews on myriad websites. But parking your books on the computer like an old tax return? No fucking way.

“Years of effort” is actually an understatement. You’d spent decades on these novels. High art or not you knew they were high concept. Your first, The Last Generation imagined a world bereft of children, slowly dying out. Yet, and this was the kicker, nothing else was wrong. For the remaining shrinking population, life simply went on. What does this last generation do with itself? Your marketing line: It’s not the end of the world, just the end of us.

Your second novel is a modern fable about God and advertising, The Happy Soul Industry. In it, God, frustrated by a world lacking belief, puts an angel on earth to find an ad agency in order to market spirituality. In the third act all hell breaks loose.

Your third story, Sweet By Design is a romantic comedy (!) about a disillusioned gay man and an aging female socialite, brought together on an improbable road trip. This one you wrote to prove you could be whimsical and, being honest here, entirely commercial. Whatever your motivations and inspirations, you never worked harder in your life than on these three books. In doing so, you developed a keen appreciation for even the shoddiest novels at the airport bookstand. Readers who weren’t writers would never comprehend, couldn’t possibly, the effort required to scribe 300 pages of anything. Thinking. Rethinking. Writing. Rewriting. Losing weeks of content. Fighting demons. Overcoming doubt. And then, when you honestly thought it was finally done, the painful discovery of a typo on the very first page, then another and another, a repeated paragraph – How did that happen? How many more things were wrong?

To be continued…

(If interested in any of these books please click on the links right side of this blog!)

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In the waiting room, you walk past an older woman, no doubt Mia’s next appointment, flipping through the pages of a magazine. She gazes up at you. Tired eyes. Thin lips. She has the face of someone forgotten, lost. You sense irritation as well. You were yet another man taking up her space.

“I’m sorry,” you say, offering a feeble smile. “If it’s any consolation you’ve come to the right place.”

You exit the dimly lit complex into the bright parking lot. The sun burns through the morning fog, like it always does, only the hint of mist still remains. All the cars glint as if in a showroom. Shielding your eyes, you squint to find yours. You’d forgotten where you’d parked it, like you always do.

New chapter coming soon…

A Chorus of Sirens

March 5, 2020

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Everyone, you think, is some kind of addict. Be they active, recovering, or on the brink. Passions which are good become obsessions which are bad. People are self-seeking. This is the human condition, the result of Original Sin. Yearning. Craving. Lusting. Demanding. Wanting. Needing. Soothing. The seeds of addiction are there, have always been there. Many are able to temper these urges, denying the seeds what they need to flourish. But they’re still there. Waiting for a deluge, a perfect storm of misery or even joy… or just another shitty day. Then boom! Out comes the Hagen Das. The lonely housewife turns on the TV and never turns it off. An old man retreats to the garage for a smoke. Some concede to only a few addictions. Maybe they are harmless ones – a gardening obsession, collecting figurines. Or weird: like hoarding. Hidden from the world. In others the seeds erupt as soon as they touch a nerve, like weeds in a vacant lot. Out of control. You’ve met no one who has not succumbed to something. Drugs and alcohol are the poster children for addiction. But plenty else is out there.

Most of the jobs people do are motivated by addiction. The salesman would like nothing more than for everyone to be addicted to his wares. Many are called dealers. They give out samples. The chef wants you to crave his cooking, the barista her coffee. And so on. If one deconstructs any vocation creating and/or satisfying needs and wants were at its core. Your job in particular was culpable. In more than a poetic sense advertising worked every one of the seven deadly sins. The theme for your advertising blog: We make you want what you don’t need. Indeed. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a litany of demands that must be met.

You suppose teaching is not inherently linked to a type of addiction. Considered noble and selfless, teaching gets a pass. Undoubtedly, there are other clean human activities. But you are not trying to win an argument; you are merely making an observation. As an addict of many things you are wont to rationalize your behavior. This theory of yours is likely an example.

It’s late. You sit outside smoking your Swisher, a cheap “cigarillo” that dope smokers also use to lace their weed. On this night, as on most nights, you hear the coyotes wailing from the adjacent hills and valleys. They sound hungry or horny. Wanting something badly. Like a chorus of sirens. In Chicago, you would lie in bed at night listening to the police cars and ambulances, wondering where the fire was, if anyone was dead or dying. At the time you did not realize how much they sounded like coyotes. A thousand miles due south, where California ends and Mexico begins coyotes are what they call the nefarious men who smuggle illegals across the border, often using the same hidden paths and dried arroyos that the drug smugglers use. Illicit desires. Unsavory dealers. Whether it’s for a better life or merely a bag of heroin, there is unmistakable craving shot through all of it.

The Man in Black

March 2, 2020

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You sit with twenty or so others around two connected folding tables in the basement of a musty church. The usual cross-section, they’ve nothing in common save for a desire to stop drinking. It’s midday so many of them have coffees from the Starbucks next door.

Finishing her share is Dallas, a thirty-something woman with black hair striped in purple. Wrapped around her left bicep a tattoo of barbed wire. The tough exterior belies her fragility. A newcomer, she has five long-ass days and longer nights under her belt. But Dallas’s share is less about withdrawal than her rapidly changing world. “Now that I’m not drinking,” she says, “my friends don’t want anything to do with me.” She looks around the room. “But what kind of friends are those, right?”

People nod. They’ve all had to say goodbye to their drinking buddies. It comes with the territory, this new life. Dallas continues.

“Anyway, I decided they can all fuck themselves. My daughter’s the only person that matters to me. That’s why I’m here. Why I’m doing the deal.” She taps the Big Book resolutely. “That’s all I got.”

‘Thank you, Dallas!’ Chimes the group. It’s a good way to end the meeting – a newcomer with grit.

The first time you saw Dallas, at the loft, you didn’t think she’d get 24 hours. Yet, here she was. The secretary rings her bell then reads from the script: “As there are only a few minutes left in the meeting it is now time to ask if anyone has a burning desire.”

No hands go up.

“Come on, people. This is the time and this is the place!”

A pale-skinned man raises his hand. The black shirt makes him look like a skeleton. He wears sunglasses, which if this weren’t AA might have seemed peculiar. Here, it’s not uncommon, especially with newcomers. The second part of the program’s name is Anonymous. He clears his throat. “I have a burning desire.”

“Excellent!” The secretary responds. “The man in black has the floor!” The joke garners chuckles from the group. Why not? It’s Friday. We are not a glum lot is a popular phrase from the Big Book.

The man in black reaches into the gym bag sitting in front of him and pulls out two liters of Jack Daniels. One at a time he places each bottle on the table. “What I desire is for each you to have a drink.”

A gasp fills the room. But the man in black pays it no mind. He begins arranging Dixie cups into a neat row on the table. He opens one bottle and carefully begins pouring the whiskey into a cup, then another. The smell permeates the room.

The secretary rises. Like everyone else, she is stunned but somebody has to do something. This is her meeting.

“Excuse me, sir,” she says, her voice quavering. “But what in the name of God do you think you’re doing? This is a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous!”

Raising an eyebrow, the man in black merely smiles. He could be tending bar.

“Well, I’ve already told you, Mam. I want you all to have a drink with me.” With that said, he slides a full cup to the woman sitting directly across from him. “Starting with you, sweetheart! You look like you could use a pop. I hope you like it neat.”

April, a frail creature no more than 18 years old, looks at the drink and the man with terror. She can’t speak. She is literally shaking.

“I…I…”

The man frowns. “What’s wrong, darling? Jack not your drink of choice? Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it. I was the same way at your age.”

April whispers. “Please. If I drink again I’ll… I’ll die.”

In the room, shock has turned to anger. A few men push their chairs back. Enough is enough. They rise.

Undaunted, the man in black continues looking directly at April. He casually pulls a large handgun from his bag and points it at her face. Inches separate the barrel from her nose.

Everyone freezes.

“No, no, no darling, you’ve got it all wrong.” He says, clucking at her, twitching the gun. “If you don’t drink then you’ll die.” He looks at the standing men. With his free hand he indicates for them to sit. When they do he returns his attention to the young woman. “Now drink up, darling. It’s damn near closing time.”

With a shaking hand, April lifts the cup to her mouth and sips. It is her first taste of alcohol in almost a year. She grimaces. The man cocks the gun.

“All of it.”

When she is done she places the empty vessel down in front of her. Two tears collapse from her eyes, the mascara making them look like black rivulets. She sobs quietly.

“Like riding a bicycle,” the pale man cackles. “Am I right?”

A couple chairs down from the gunman, an addict named Roberto can no longer hold his tongue. “Please, sir, I beg of you-

The man in black wheels around and points the gun at Roberto. His voice remains calm, sickeningly so.

“Don’t worry, Senor. There’s plenty to go around. Matter of fact, you can drink straight from the bottle. We don’t mind.”

He slides the open bottle to Roberto. It stops alongside of his Big Book.

“I…I… can’t drink this!”

Undeterred, the man in black counters. “Sure you can, amigo. Isn’t that how you got here – drinking this?

Roberto pleads. “But it’s been over eleven years!”

“Then you must be awful thirsty!”

Roberto stares at the bottle. He shuts his eyes. Prays. He reaches for the whiskey but instead of picking it up he pushes it away, slowly, until it is just past his fingertips.

“I see,” says the man in black. “Well, how about we start you off with a shot?”

He pulls the trigger blowing a whole through Roberto’s chest. He’s dead before the blood exits his body, which it does suddenly, gushing on the table as if spilling from a bottle.

“Any other requests?”

The man in black places the smoking gun on the table. He picks up one of the Dixie cups. “Salut!” He says, before downing it. “Now then, who’s next?”

You have been sitting quietly, just a couple chairs down. You reach over and take one of the full cups of whiskey.

The man in black grins, nodding in approval. “That’s right, son. If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it!”

He may have said that. Or at least you think so. It doesn’t matter. A centimeter from your lips is alcohol! For years you’ve wondered if there was a backdoor, a way that would allow you to drink with impunity, without regret or shame. Here it was, at last, at gunpoint! You lift the cup.

Then…

You are on your back. Breathing hard. You taste whiskey, remembering blood. But it’s so dark. And why are you in bed? Crickets, it’s your iPhone chirping. In the rooms they often talked about these nightmares. Called drinking dreams, they said you would thank God as soon as you realized none of it was real. The truth. Drinking with impunity is both a dream and a nightmare.