Daily Ritual

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Five, Friday, July 14, 2017

“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
—-Tennessee Williams

Fish on the sidewalk,
Governor Nichols Street
New Orleans, Louisiana

Every day I have to select what I will be handwriting for the day. I carry a burlap zippered bag that used to hold five pounds of Basmati Rice that I bought from the local Indian market (a great bag, by the way) and into this bag I put one, two or three journals. I also select a couple of fountain pens, usually of contrasting ink colors, which I put into an Otterbox armored cigar case (two cigars) for protection.

Pens – I usually have about 5 in rotation – I may put a new one into or take one out (clean it of old ink, place it back in storage) rotation.

Things to think about:

  • Value – Don’t want to carry an expensive pen someplace risky.
  • Age – The older pens are fragile and won’t carry one if I’m going somewhere active (like on a bike)
  • Line Width – If I am going to write a lot I’ll want a pen with a narrow line – wider lines are fun for short writing
  • Ink Color – I like to vary this – for the heck of it
  • Reliability – how long will I be gone? If more than a short time, I need a reliable pen.
  • Amount of ink held – again, how much writing?

Journals:

  • Bullet Journal – go to, usually carry
  • Idea Journal
  • Goals Journal
  • Straightening Journal
  • Fiction snippets journal
  • … several others

This has to be done every morning before I leave the house. The rice bag will fit in my work backpack if I’m going to work.
I don’t know how to carry extra ink (bottle, cartridges, syringe?) – need to work on that.

Walking Along Governor Nichols Street

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Four, Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ancient tree growing through the sidewalk, Governor NIchols Street, New Orleans, Louisiana

Walking in the morning is too hard. My feet ache from all the walking the day before, my leg muscles are stiff and weak from sleeping all night. The morning humidity is difficult to breathe as if the moisture is displacing all the oxygen.

Time oppresses this morning. I can feel the burden of centuries in the teetering live oaks growing out of the sidewalks – their ancient roots beginning to slip and rise, pushing the bricks and slabs of concrete up and aside like they are packing peanuts.

I have seen these trees lying on their sides after a violent storm. Enormous root ball exposed to the air – an obscene display of the oak’s private parts.

How many storms, named and ancient anonymous, have these giant trees endured.

Some of them… I don’t think they will make it through the next one.

I have been through too many storms – some quiet, some loud, and they have left be bent. How many more do I have left?

Not too many, maybe not enough.

In the Cathedral

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Three, Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Walking around the French Quarter we decided to stop off at the iconic (and beautiful) St. Louis Cathedral as a peaceful respite from the heat and a nice place to write for a bit. This is some of what I wrote there.

Saint Louis Cathedral from across the Mississippi River

The Devotion Machine

The Cathedral was designed – as all were – to draw the eyes upward, the attention and ultimately, the soul, toward heaven.

At first the peasants felt their rough clothes, callused hands, and freshly scrubbed skin acutely – feeling out of place, uneasy, and embarrassed at their poverty and the effects of a difficult and dangerous life. But the calm and quiet reverence would wear away their feelings of unease and they would accept the fact the opulent gilt statuary, soaring columns, and ceiling frescoes of Saints and the Christ peering down, magnanimous, as if through gaps in the clouds, were all intended for them. Each individual worker feeling as if this vast impressive building – this Machine for Devotion – was designed, constructed, and decorated for him and him alone. A personal miracle that helped him forget the world and dream of a higher place.

At least for a few precious seconds.

Children in the Cathedral

Down the center aisle two children – a small boy and his younger sister, almost a toddler – hopped along, playing a game of leaping contrasting floor tiles in a complicated very personal and mysterious children’s pattern. Their feet clomped and echoed through the vast silent space. All the supplicants stared in vexation.

“They think they own the place,” everyone thought to themselves – some daring to mumble out loud.

And that’s the horror of growing up, isn’t it. At that young age everyone owns the world. Over the next years those kids will come the slow horrifying realization that they own nothing.

The First Time

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017

One snippet of what I wrote that day.

The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.

Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.

Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.

A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.

“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.

Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.

He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.

But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.

A Fight on Royal Street

New Orleans Writing Marathon

Day One, Monday, July 10, 2017

As we sit in a group listening to speakers outline the upcoming week – I find myself sitting next to a big window looking out across Royal Street. It is the usual narrow French Quarter lane – two stories – balconies above. I should pay better attention to the speakers but my eyes are drawn by the parade of sweating tourists moving by on the sidewalks. Some of them look into the window at all of us sitting there – confused looks, “What are these people doing in there?”

As I glance across the street I see an old man struggling to lean a bicycle against the wrought iron post supporting an overhead balcony. He had a red milk carton full of crap strapped to his bike – a sign of a serious bicycling homeless person. After he managed to lean the bike, he turned, stretched out, curled up, and went to asleep on the sidewalk. The tourist parade continued unabated. They would point at him as they passed.

It is almost like his location is marked on their tourist maps – “Unconscious Drunken Man with Bicycle.”

A few minutes later another odd man with another bike walks up and starts talking to him, “Hey! You’re sleeping on Royal Street! Do you need an ambulance?”

In a split second this disintegrated into shouted curses, “Fuck you!”, “No! Fuck YOU!” – over and over. I didn’t look up because I was writing the start of this thing here. But I heard a clattering and crashing – the two were now fighting.

(This all happened after I had already started on this subject or I would have written about something else.)

When I write I feel a need to explore the thin membrane between the comfortable everyday world we move in and the unimaginable terror of the chaos that rules on the other side.

This drunken bicycle guy lives right on the membrane, stretching it thin – crucified on the border between the tourists of the French Quarter and the trackless void beyond.

When I looked up, everyone had moved on.

I guess now they will have to change all the tourist maps.

Monday Flash Fiction – The Lunch Thief

“Did you bring the duct tape?”

“Of course, did you bring the… you know… the pliers?”

“Yup.”

Sam pulled a hideous looking pair of rusty heavy duty curved-jaw carpenter’s pincers from the inside of his jacket. “I was going to clean these up last night, but….”

“No, they are more frightening that way.”

“I know, right?”

“Now when Clayton gets here with the chloroform, we’ll be ready.”

Sam and Brandon stood at the entrance to the office cubicle, fidgeting, Sam clutching his pincers and Brandon trying to push his hand through the cardboard tube at the center of the roll of gray shiny tape. They both could feel their nerves ratcheting up when Clayton came walking down the aisle between the cubicles. He was carrying a cardboard shoe box under his arm and the two could hear the glass bottle rattling around as he moved. He had a white folded face towel in his hand.

“Now we’re ready,” said Sam, “Now we’ll catch the son of a bitch that’s been stealing everybody’s lunches.”

—————————————————————–

“So, as you see… we have all three of you pretty much red-handed,” the Human Resources Woman said as she stopped the video. “Plus, his blood and your prints… partials, but enough, were on the pincers we found in your desk. Those things were horrible, where did you find something like that?”

“My grandfather had them in his woodshop, I picked them up when he died.” Sam kicked himself internally. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice that surveillance camera before.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“You have been assigned to that cube… how long? Seven years?”

Sam nodded.

“That camera has been there all this time, a black dome over your head, in plain view, but it had disappeared from your mind, they always do.”

Sam glared at the Human Resources Woman. “Yeah, you look at something for long enough, you don’t notice it anymore.”

“That’s why we don’t bother to hide the cameras.”

Sam looked at the Human Resources Woman, really looked at her for the first time. He was never good at guessing ages and she could be anything from twenty-five to forty. She was wearing a standard and severe woman’s business outfit, a subtle patterned dark gray tube from skirt to shoulder carefully designed to disguise the fact she was a human being. Her hair was pulled back so tight it gave her a rictus grin.

Behind her desk was a blown-up copy of a diploma from a school with the word “middle” and two different compass directions preceding the name of a distant impoverished state. He glanced at the nameplate on her desk but forgot what it said as soon as his eyes returned to her.

Sam glowered. “Have you brought in Brandon and Clayton yet?”

“No, not yet. After we found Markson duct-taped to the water heater in the janitor’s closet, bleeding and missing most of a molar, it didn’t take long to find the incriminating evidence.”

“Markson, the asshole. So he ratted us out.”

“Nope, he wouldn’t say a word. He didn’t show up for work after that, though.”

“No, I guessed he wouldn’t. That was the point.”

“But the lunches kept on disappearing, didn’t they.”

“Yeah… dammit. We were sure that it was Markson.”

“But you were wrong.”

“Yes we were.”

“He never confessed, even under your torture, did he?”

“No, not a peep. He said that his lunches were stolen out of the office refrigerator too. So now what? Are you going to fire me? I don’t blame you. Let’s get on with it.”

The Human Resources Woman expanded her smile enough that the bun on the back of her head dipped a little.

“Fire you, oh no. There is an opening in the operations department, a district level manager’s position, with an office. You are one of the three remaining candidates.”

“Wait? What? You are offering me a promotion? But I don’t know anything about operations. I’m an accountant.”

“Here at Yoyodyne, we value pluck, independence, and innovation. Your reaction to the stolen lunches seems to indicate that you have the qualities we value in a management setting.”

“Yoyodyne? What does that mean? The company is called Earnest and Baynes. I’m not even really sure what we do… what they do.”

“Yes, that is our public name. We are offering you the opportunity to join the inner circle, the people that really understand what is going on. The group in charge of the Yoyodyne operation.”

Sam’s head was spinning; he found it hard to catch his breath. The air suddenly felt thin, lacking in oxygen.

“Are you interested,” said the Human Resources Woman. She didn’t ask it as a question.

“I guess,” said Sam. “What do I need to do to qualify?”

“That is for you to figure out.”

Sam rubbed his face with his palm, trying to decide what to do next. Suddenly, an important question came to mind.

“You said there were three candidates. Who are the other two?”

“Brandon and Clayton, of course. They have not been notified and hopefully, never will be. We have decided to give you the first shot.”

As Sam turned to leave, the Human Resources Woman called him back.

“We wanted to return these.”

She handed him the pinchers. They had been cleaned and the rust buffed off, leaving gleaming arcs of steel. Sam nodded, slipped them under his suit jacket, and left.

—————————————————————–

Getting rid of Clayton was easy. He had always been a natural crook, but very sloppy, plus fast and loose with the books in his department. A detailed anonymous letter to the local tax board inspector (mailed from another city) was all it took. Everyone lined the corridor while Clayton was marched out of the maze of cubes clutching a thin plastic grocery bag with his meager personal possessions. They didn’t even give him the dignity of the customary cardboard box.

After he left, a fast wave of employees fell upon Clayton’s cubicle to grab any left-behind office supplies. Only Sam and Brandon stood back. Sam eyed his rival and caught a distinct stink-eye glare from his former co-conspirator. Had the Human Resources Woman lied? Did Brandon know something?

It was on.

Both sides brought out every dirty trick in the book. Tiny slivers of seafood hidden in the crevices of the cubical. Invitations to non-existent meetings across town at critical times. Subscriptions to gay-porn message servers with work email addresses. Wiping out of data files. A potato in an exhaust pipe. Subtle, yet critical changes to customer databases. Viruses inserted in desktop computers.

Finally, though, Sam obtained information from a young administrative assistant about Brandon meeting up with a cute intern at a hot new nightspot. Sam knew that was the evening Brandon’s wife always went out with a group of friends. A careful email insured that the group chose the proper place to meet and was sure to run into Brandon and his illicit date.

And that was the end of Brandon.
—————————————————————–

As he left for home, an hour earlier than he had for seven years, Sam locked up his Yoyodyne badge in his desk and pulled out the Earnest and Baynes badge he wore outside of work. He took one long last look at the spectacular views from both corner office floor-to-ceiling glass windows before leaving his private office and dropping off a pile of work on his assistant’s desk.

The executive elevator was waiting and whisked him to the executive parking garage where his new Mercedes sat tight in its assigned spot. His smile turned to a scowl when he saw the heavy yellow boot locked on the front wheel. There was a typed note under one wiper blade, “Please come see us in the garage office and we can settle this minor matter.”

“What the fuck!” Sam screamed as he yanked the note off his windshield and strode toward the cinder block office. “I will have someone’s ass over this!”

He jerked open the heavy metal door and jumped into the small, windowless office. There were three parking garage employees standing by the opposite wall, facing away from him, all wearing stained yellow coveralls.

“Ok, which one of you assholes booted my Mercedes?” Sam screamed. His voice echoed around in the tiny office.

One of the men clicked something in his hand, a small remote. Sam heard a bolt slide in the door behind him. Before he could ask why the door was locked, the three turned around.

It was Brandon, Clayton, and Markson. Brandon had a roll of tape that looked like the same roll they had used on Markson, weeks before. Clayton had the same bottle of chloroform. And Markson swung something long, red, and massive, holding it with both hands. It was a big pair of nasty looking heavy duty bolt cutters. Swinging the handles, Markson made sure Sam could see the steel levers forcing the thick jaws open and shut.

“There are things you might miss a lot more than a tooth,” Markson said in a frightening, calm, matter-of-fact voice.

“Hey… what the hell?” Sam pleaded in desperation as the three closed in on him. “Come on guys. Don’t blame me, I didn’t steal anybody’s lunch.”

Writing Prompt

At other times I find pages that I not only don’t remember having written, which in itself doesn’t astonish me, but that I don’t even remember having been capable of writing, which terrifies me.
—-Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

Newspaper taped to a window, Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas

Women Trampled as 26 Manhole Covers Burst

Shoppers Flee Terror-Stricken as Sky is Alight With Flame; Windows Shattered for Blocks

Hubert hated being the intern. Of course, he would be the one that the editor ordered back to the scene of the explosion, after all the excitement had died down, “Get the Hell back there and you count every one of those manholes!” the editor screamed, turning a deep shade of beet red. “I want to know if it was five or five hundred…. and be exact! And no Goddamn Lollygaggin’!”

Everyone in the newroom laughed at Hubert as he hung his head and slumped toward the door.

“Be sure and count them exact! Har! Har!” smirked Simpson from his typewriter. Hubert ignored him but glanced at the copy as he trudged by, “Injured, cut, and bloodstained…” was all he had typed.

What a crappy day – they would all be writing lurid copy while he was out counting manholes… getting them exact.

———–

“Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen….” Hubert counted as he walked along the street. He carried a small notepad and a pencil that he had pulled down from his hat, labelled “Daily Digest” after the paper he interned for.

“Hey, you! Are you a newspaperman?”

The loud, sharp, and unexpected voice broke his concentration, but he was able to scribble down a quick “19” before he forgot and had to start over.

“Not exactly,” Hubert started to reply, “I’m an inter….” Then he looked up to see what he was sure was the most beautiful woman he had seen in his life striding toward him. “Ummm, I’m the head reporter for the Daily Digest,” tapping his hat, “I’m down here to find out what happened today.”

(and at this point I had to go, maybe I’ll write more later)