Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Clambake by Bill Chance

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.”
― Anais Nin

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#81) Getting closer! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Clambake

Andrew was a senior in high school. He had a brother, Sam, who was a freshman. Andrew didn’t really like going places with his family, but he loved hanging out at the sea. So when he parents insisted that he go to the beach with the three of them and Sam’s friend Wilbur he hemmed and hawed and complained but agreed to go. Actually, he was looking forward to it, but knew he couldn’t appear too eager or it would betray his brand.

“Sam is bringing Wilbur for the day, don’t you have a girlfriend you could invite?” asked his mother. Andrew flashed his best combination face of exasperation, embarrassment, and fury before he turned, huffed, and stomped off. “If I had a girlfriend I wouldn’t have to go to the beach with my family,” he said to himself once he reached the privacy of his room.

The drive was two hours and getting all those people into the MiniVan and on the road was like herding cats. Andrew crammed himself into the back seat with his eyes closed hoping he could stand it until they were there and all this noise stopped. A split second before it became too much to bear they pulled into the parking lot and the whole crew piled out and ran for the sand.

It was a warm day and the ocean was like bathwater. Andrew swam a little and body surfed the waves a bit. His favorite thing was simply to walk the beach in the shallow water between the surf and the dry sand. He was of a curious nature and loved to look at the water, sand, and the creatures that lived in the tidal zone. Every time he came, he wondered at the smell of the sea – salt with a note of rotting fish. The strong breeze from offshore threw his hair around and the sun dried the wet sand on his ankles as he walked. Above all, he loved the rumble and crash of the surf – though it was partially ruined by the constant yelling and screeching of his little brother and Wilbur as they scampered around, causing as much trouble as they could.

The sun was beginning to settle towards the horizon when Sam ran up to Andrew and aroused him from his reverie. Sam was clutching a plastic bucket and toy shovel. Wilbur was grinning a few feet behind.

“Andrew! Look!” his brother said, holding out the bucket.

Andrew peered in and saw a single smooth brown clam.

“So?”

Sam handed the bucket to Wilbur.

“Wilbur and I dug it up! We’ve figured out how to find where the clams are buried.”

“No. That’s crazy.”

“Here, I’ll show you.”

His little brother began walking Andrew along the sand, looking carefully at the strip where the waves ebbed and flowed and the water was a fraction of an inch deep.

“Look down carefully. You just look for a place where these little bubbles are coming up…. There! Right there!”

“I don’t see anything.”

“No, right there. Dig.”

Sam handed Andrew the plastic shovel and he poked at the wet sand. Immediately another clam popped up, only an inch below the surface.

“Wow, another clam!” said Andrew.

“I told you,” Sam said. “Wilbur come here.” Sam flipped the clam into the bucket with the one they had found earlier. “Let’s find some more.”

They continued to walk along the beach and after a bit Sam would point and Andrew would dig up another clam. They would hand them to Wilbur who would drop them into the bucket. Andrew was confused because he could not figure out how Sam was finding the clams.

“What are you seeing that I can’t?”

“It hard to explain, it’s more like a feeling.”

Andrew couldn’t argue though, because every time he’d dig, he’d find a clam. He began to get more and more excited. Visions of filling the bucket and having a clambake began to grow and fill his imagination. He didn’t notice the sky going golden as the sun crept down.

“Hey, guys. Finish up, it’s time to go,” said his father. Andrew hadn’t noticed his parents hanging around next to them.

“No! Dad! We can’t go! Look at all the clams!” Andrew gestured toward the bucket in Wilbur’s hand. “We’re going to have a clambake!” He could barely contain his excitement.

“Just a couple more minutes, then we have to go,” said his father.

Andrew was confused at his father’s lake of enthusiasm for the clambake. He chalked it up to age and continued to walk along with Sam, stopping every few feet to dig up another clam. Wilbur kept putting them in the bucket.

“Ok, that’s it, time to go,” said his father. He was right; it would be dark soon.

“Wow, I hope we have enough to cook up,” said Andrew. “Hey Wilbur, let me look at the bucket. It must be full now.”

Wilbur started to twist away but Andrew was excited and quick and grabbed the bucket. Barely able to contain his excitement he pulled it close and looked down to see the pile of clams they had collected.

“What the hell!”

Andrew was shocked to see in the bucket only one clam rattling around alone in the bottom.

Confused, he looked up to see his parents, impatient and aggravated and his brother and Wilbur down in the sand rolling around laughing so hard they looked like they were going to get sick.

Andrew suddenly realized what had been going on. There was only one clam. Sam must have simply stumbled across it somewhere. Wilbur was walking ahead of them while they were looking down and he was re-burying the thing, over and over. Sam would point to the spot Wilbur had buried it and they would dig the same clam up, again and again.

It took the younger kids a long time to stop laughing and then they all walked back to the MiniVan. Andrew, of course, said nothing and heard nothing. It was especially humiliating to realize his parents could see the whole thing, hear his excitement, and let it go on.

The drive home was the longest trip in Andrew’s life. He was so ashamed and also disappointed – he had been really looking forward to a clambake.

The only thing that made him feel a little better is the thought that at least he didn’t have a girlfriend. If she had been along… and seen what happened. He wasn’t sure he could go on living.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – Booty Hates Crackheads by Bill Chance

“He’s Gandalf on crack and an IV of Red Bull, with a big leather coat and a .44 revolver in his pocket.”
Jim Butcher
 

Shrimp boat, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#78) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


Booty Hates Crackheads

BUY SHRIMP HERE – I NEED THE MONEY

Woody Vogler read the sign as he turned the bicycle onto the gravel and sand side road that ran down to the bay side of the island. The headset squeaked a bit and Woody knew he’d need to take it apart, clean, and re-lube the thing. He liked the ancient bicycle to look bad, so nobody thought about stealing it, but run like a top. Up to now, Woody would ride to the end of the road and buy shrimp from the docks, but never saw a reason to do more work than he had to, plus the guy needed the money, so he turned off and leaned the bike against the graying four by eight sheet of old plywood that was propped up for a sign. The lettering was done with cheap white house paint put on with a brush – the letters were crude, but “At least the guy didn’t use spray paint,” Woody muttered as he walked around the clapboard house up on stilts to the little gray wood dock along the canal in back.

As he approached the dock a scruffy multicolored mutt of a dog came skittering up from the canal, growling low to the ground. The hair on the dog’s back was spiked as it pushed its belly low as it could, the snarl growing to a mean bark.
“Aw shut up Booty! It’s not a crackhead!”
An old man materialized from between the piles of rusty equipment and old trash cluttering up the dock. The dog immediately calmed down and turned, ignoring Woody, moving back to the canal.
“He hates crackheads, you know.”
“Really.”
“Yeah, watch this. Booty! Here comes some crackheads!”
The dog darted past Woody towards the road, barking like crazy.
“Booty! Kidding!”
On cue the dog quieted again, and turned back to the canal without a glance.
“Yeah the crackheads come up the road, this very road. They work on the shrimp boats. They get off the boats down there and walk up the road. Old Booty hates ’em. He can smell a crackhead a mile way…. Shrimp?”
“Two pounds.”
“Head’s on?”
“Naw.”
The old man began shoveling shrimp from a big white foam cooler into a stainless steel bowl suspended from a spring scale. Once he had the weight, he began picking them one by one and snipping the heads off into the water over the side of the dock. When the shrimp heads hit the water, it would boil as critters from below the surface fought over the meal. Booty stood on the bank on point, staring at whatever was gobbling the heads.

While the old man was working the shrimp Woody glanced around. The small square house was old peeling paint and ratty shingles, stilts starting to lean, the stairs missing a runner or two, the sandy lot littered with junk. Pretty standard for the bay side of the peninsula. The road ended a quarter of a mile at a big dock where a dozen Vietnamese shrimpers were pulled up. The crews were out cleaning their nets and stowing them for the day. There was a big reefer truck down there spewing blue smoke, picking the day’s catch up for wholesale. Woody turned to the water that ran by the old man’s shack. The canal that ran back up from the Intercoastal Waterway parallel to the road was getting silted up – an ancient decrepit shrimp boat, nets in terrible tatters leaned over, stuck in a mud bank down from the dock a few feet. The boat would never sail again but somebody had recently carefully repainted the name on the gunwale, “Mary Lou.”

“Here’s your shrimp.”

The old man spun a flimsy Wal-Mart shopping bag and knotted the top tight against the shrimp and handed it to Woody. After peeling some bills off a small roll in his pocket, Woody placed the bag in a wire basket on the bike’s handlebars and with a silent nod started off back home. He rode back to the main paved highway that ran down the length of the peninsula from the Galveston ferry. He rode facing traffic along the gravel shoulder, the old bike’s big heavy balloon tires smoothly negotiating the uneven surface without problem. It wasn’t fast, but Woody wasn’t in a hurry.

Short Story Of the Day (flash fiction) – After Hours by Bill Chance

“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

A sketch of the Casino at Montelimar, Nicaragua – once Somoza’s beach house.


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#77) Three fourths there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.


After Hours

Barry Carpenter and his daughter walked out onto the beach in the darkness. Even the waves seemed to respect the night, rumbling low in a tumble of phosphorescent foam. The sand was cool between their toes and the offshore breeze warm on their faces.

Far out to sea a violent store raged. From the beach, all that could be seen was a spreading mass of black cloud, curling above the unseen horizon, blacker than the black sky above. The clouds were silently and invisibly roiled but the violence was revealed by the strokes of electric veins flashing across and through the distant storm. Sharp traces of lightning flared alternated with the soft blue glow of deep interior discharges.

They stood on the smooth wet sward of damp sand, stood there and let the breeze blow bits of foam, the last extent of the crashing salt sea undulations, kiss barely against their bare toes. They stood silent, staring, shoulder to shoulder, together, and alone.

Barry Carpenter became aware that his daughter wasn’t completely silent, or utterly still, like he was. He turned his head and, since his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the moonless night, he could tell that her shoulders were shaking, her head moving a little in an irregular fashion. He wasn’t sure at first but then he caught a little sob, heard a bit of sniffle. Though she was trying to conceal it, his daughter was weeping. She was standing on the sand next to him, looking out to sea, and weeping.

He had no idea what to do.

The tiny sighs and subtle sobs, almost drowned by the noise of the surf, were powerful blows. He felt a deep and primordial panic welling up until his mind could not stand it any more.

Automatically, his memories poured forth; inexorable images welled up. He remembered another beach at night. A long time ago and a long way away. Another continent. It was another ocean – a much warmer one. He was young then, and so were his friends. And they were out of rum.

They were walking down the beach. Back behind them was the tourist beach, with the lifeguards and the all-inclusive hotels. There the sand was scrupulously clean, swept every day at dawn by a mob of barely-fed workers. The tourist beach was no fun.

Barry and his friends liked to hang out at Calangute… the people’s beach. Here the sand was always littered and the dunes filled with thatched huts rather than glass hotels. Thick blue smoke from hundreds of wood cooking fires battled the sea breezes – the unique magnificent smell of third-world grease and spice hung on everything. There was always a party at Calangute.

Except now, it was too late. The poor people of Calangute all had to work, somehow, to eat and it was four in the morning. Everyone was asleep. Everyone except Barry and his friends, who didn’t have to work and never liked to sleep. And they especially didn’t like it when they were out of rum.

They were working their way down the ocean-most row of shacks, wobbly crude constructions of sticks and palm fronds, intended during the day as tiny storefronts, selling food, drink, cheap plastic childrens’ toys. This late they were all closed and bundled up and took on their second purpose as houses for their proprietors.

The boys would shake each shack, watching it wiggle, shouting, “Oye! Oye! Rum! Rum.” Every shack had somebody in it, but… maybe they were afraid, maybe tired, maybe sick of the noisy rich kids… probably all three – and nobody stirred. They would wait, fain slumber, until the teenagers lost their thin patience and moved to the next hut.

Finally, a groggy woman’s voice grunted agreement from the inside of a particularly tiny and crude, hut. Barry figured she needed the money more than she dreaded the disruption. He pulled a wet, sandy, lump of bills from his pocket and waved it in the dark, knowing it would be more than enough for a bottle of the rough, clear hooch sold at Calangute. The stuff tasted like paint thinner, but it got the job done.

A low, yellow light snapped on within and the handmade door opened up a crack. Barry went in to pick up his purchase. The only light was a cheap lime-green flashlight with obviously failing batteries, but there was enough light to see the scrawny sick-looking woman holding out an old-style glass soft-drink bottle filled with a cloudy liquid and stoppered with a hand-carved wooden cork.

Barry looked around the inside of the shack and saw that it was filled to bursting with children. They were sleeping in piles all around the edge of the room, so deep there was barely enough room to stand in the center. There were too many to be the children of the woman with the bottle, and she seemed to be the only adult present. Barry realized that these were the ragged children that ran on the beach all day, selling tiny boxes of chewing gum, or worthless hand-carved trinkets, or simply offering to fetch a drink of bit of food in exchange for the tiniest of coins. He had always assumed these children to be a member of a family – sent out all day in their rags to bring home a little extra for their parents – but it seemed that they formed a family of their own – on their own.

As he took the bottle and turned for the door he reached into his pocket a little deeper and found one last bill crumpled down at the bottom. Though he already had his bottle he let the last bit of money drop, down, among the sleeping children.

The yellowed memory sight of the grimy bill dropping down into the rags on the floor was the end of his reverie. He was back on the cooler beach, still standing beside his softly crying daughter.

He reached out and placed an arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close to him. Looking outward they both noticed that something had blown the foggy beach air out and replaced it with clear, fresh, atmosphere. Above the distant bank of dark electric clouds the stars appeared.

In particular, they could see a bright star, or planet, maybe Jupiter, hovering just above the remote tumult. And above that, a starry smear, a small cluster of tiny dots, connected with blurs of glowing gas.

See that,” Barry Carpenter said to his daughter, “those are the Pleiades.” She nodded. She knew what they were.

The two of them, nothing being said, began to walk out into the water. The waves poured sand over their feet, licked at their knees, and splashed bits of salty drops onto their faces. They walked until they were waist deep and could feel the bigger waves pulling until they would have to stumble a bit.

Barry saw his daughter pull something out of her pocket. It was a bit of vine covered with small white flowers. He remembered them – they grew on a little terrace in back of the beach house the two of them had rented for the weekend. As a wave collapsed his daughter threw the bit of green and white into the receding foam.

Ok, let’s go back now,” his daughter said.

He nodded, but didn’t say anything, and they turned and walked back, arm in arm, in silence.

Short Story Of the Day – The Friendly Ghost (flash fiction) by Bill Chance

“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Window Reflection, Dallas Public Library


 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#61) More than half way there! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

The Friendly Ghost

It was so hot and so humid and the sun was so bright. The sand in Dave’s shorts made walking unpleasant and the store was so far away. The island was a long thin sandbar and they could hear the roar of the surf as they walked, though it was screened by rows of tattered beach houses on stilts and the line of dunes by the beach.

“Come on Dave,” Bernard said. “We’ve got to walk to the store. The girls are coming by tonight and I told them we would have Piña Coladas.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s so damn far though. I can’t even see it yet.” Dave stared into the heat haze that stretched out in front of him in a vast blur. He shook his head at the distance.

“What is in a Piña Colada anyway?” he asked.

“Isn’t it vodka, milk and pineapple juice?” Bernard answered.

“That doesn’t sound right. I thought it was bananas and cream.”

“Naw, it has to be pineapple… doesn’t Piña mean pineapple in Spanish?”

“I don’t think so. I think it just means cold drink or something like that.”

Dave stopped, shaded his eyes, and tried again to spot the big yellow sign in front of the store.

“Nothing.”

He turned back to see how far they had walked. He saw a ragged looking van coming down the road toward them and, on a whim, turned his hand and half-heartily extended a thumb.

As the van neared the bright sun poured through the windscreen and he could see clearly that there were two young women in the cab. The side windows must have been down and the wind blew their blonde hair up in a halo around their smiling faces. In seconds, the van rumbled past.

Dave let out a little sigh and then was shocked as the brake lights came on and it rattled to a stop on the sandy shoulder.

“What the hell?” said Bernard. He must not have seen the thumb.

“Come on, man, run. They’re giving us a ride.”

As they came around the side, the sliding panel flew open. Dave and Bernard both jumped as the unexpected face jutted out from the dim bowels of the van into the sunlight. It was a huge, wild face, topped with a massive pile of unkempt red hair.

But what threw them was his beard – a thick mane that was inexplicably streaked with bright gold. The face opened and an unintelligible but loud grunt rushed out. Dave and Bernard stepped back, caught off guard in sudden fear.

“Come on guys, get in… Where y’all goin’ anyway?” came a sweet voice from the driver, turning in her seat.

Two meaty hands emerged on either side of the gold-streaked face and grabbed the hitchhikers, pulling them into the dark maw of the van. The door rumbled shut and the van sped off.

“She asked y’all, where ya going?” This was the other girl, sitting beside the driver.

“Uhh,” Bernard was the first to respond, “We’re headed to the store, the Lopez Quick Stop. We appreciate the ride… it was a long walk.”

“You ain’t a kiddin’ honey, The Lopez Quick Stop is back the other way. Y’all would be walkin’ all day and never get there.”

“Jeez Dave! I told you.”

But Dave was too stunned by the scene in the back of the van to respond. The metal walls were hot and the air was stuffy with some terrible solvent smell. There were two men back there – the giant that had pulled them in, and another tall, thin bald man that appeared to have no hair on his body at all. Neither were wearing anything other than dingy boxer underwear and were rolling around on the floor of the van. There were no seats or other furniture, and the carpeted floor could barely be seen through a thick layer of comic books.

Even though the windowless van was dark except for what filtered in from the front windshield the thin man was reading one, and once the big one settled down he grabbed a couple at random and started staring at them. Dave’s eyes grew large as he looked around and realized that all the hundred or so comics littering the floor were various issues of Casper the Friendly Ghost.

The thin one lowered his comic and nodded to Dave, then reached down and picked up two books, throwing one each to Dave and Bernard. The thin one’s mouth and cheeks were splashed with gold like his big friend.

“Your name’s Dave?” one of the women asked. Dave was startled to see the driver turned around and looking at him instead of the road. Quickly though, she turned back and the other leaned over her shoulder and continued, “What’s your name then?”

“He’s Bernard,” Dave said. Bernard had finally taken in the scene and seemed struck speechless. In a meek gesture, he raised a Casper and began to thumb through it, without really looking.

“I’m Sara and that’s Suzy,” the passenger said.

“We’re Sisters,” said the driver, again turning around to speak.

“People think we’re twins, but we’re a year apart, really.” This was the passenger. They seemed to be in the habit of taking turns talking to the point of finishing each other’s sentences.

“Those two in the back, the big one’s Lucien.”

“And the other’s Beauregard.”

“But we just call him Bo. ‘Scuse how he looks, he shaved off all his hair last night.”

“All of it.”

“All of it. He got the willies.”

“And thought bugs were crawlin’ all over him.”

“Really they weren’t though – but once he got started.”

“He wasn’t goin’ stop. I told him it wouldn’t help.”

“But he’s always doin’ crazy shit like that.”

The two blonde sisters then started laughing. It was a high, childlike, tinkling laugh, and Dave thought it out of place in the van.

As if on cue, Lucian dropped his comic and reached into a cardboard box that was duct taped to one wheel well. He pulled out a large ziplock bag and a can of gold metallic spray paint. The bag was no longer transparent – its inside coated with a layer of gold. Shaking the can, Lucian sprayed the paint into the bag then lifted it to his mouth and took a quick series of deep, huffing breaths.

His head snapped back and he let out a frightening groan, even louder and more primal than the one they had heard when the door opened. He threw the can and bag over to Bo who repeated the process.

“Hot Damn!” Bo yelled as he finished, a fresh swath of gold smeared across his face. “Wow, that’ll take you places you don’t wanna go, for sure.”

He lifted the bag and can, offering it to Dave.

“Those boys do like their gold paint!” came a comment from the front.

“Yes they sure do. That’s why we know y’all walkin’ the wrong way.”

“It’s weird, but we just came from Da Lopez Quick Stop weselves.”

“The boys bought their spray cans there.”

“Old man Lopez always keeps some gold in the back for them.”

“And some books too.”

“The boys like that lil’ ol’ Friendly Ghost almost as much as they like that gold paint.”

“They love to read ‘em.”

“Never tired of ‘em.”

“Or at least to look at the pictures.”

Bo was grunting at Dave, trying to get him to take the paint and bag.

“Ummm, no thank you.”

“Why were you boys going to Lopez anyway.”

Bernard answered, “We’re going to get stuff for Piña Coladas… we’ve got some people coming over.”

“That’s cool,” the driver, Suzy, said, sounding actually interested.

Dave decided to at least take the bag and can, hoping to get Bo to settle down.

“Thank you,” he said.

He held the stuff in his lap and pretended to look at a comic, disturbed that his hand was smeared with gold. He looked up to see Bo making motions around his face, trying to egg Dave into huffing the paint, so Dave looked back down, trying to ignore him.

“Do either of you girls know how to make a Piña Colada?” Bernard asked.

“I donno, really, how ‘bout you Lucien?”

The big guy let out a loud bellow.

“Naw, I don’t think that’s it,” said Sara. “I think it has, like papaya and strawberries, maybe some champagne.”

“No, I don’t think so either,” said Suzy. “Isn’t it ice and lime and some double “sec” stuff or something.

“I know,” said Sara, brightening. “Forget old Lopez, there’s a liquor store up about another mile. “They’ll know.”

“They might even have some stuff.”

Dave and Bernard felt the van accelerate. Even though he didn’t really trust Suzy’s driving, Dave was glad for the speed. He wanted out as fast as he could. He tried to concentrate on the comic and avoided looking at Bo at all. He let the bag and can slip through his hand and onto a pile of Caspers.

After what seemed like hours, the van squealed off the road and into a small parking lot. Dave grabbed the handle and shoved the door open.

“Thanks for the ride and enjoy your evening,” Dave said as he moved toward the door, carefully avoiding eye contact. Bernard didn’t say anything and beat him out the door.

“But boys, don’t you…” came a voice from the front. Dave ignored it and slid the door shut as hard as he could. He noticed that Lucien had picked up the bag and was shaking the can again.

“Holy shit!” said Bernard as they ran into the store. They crouched down, peering out the grimy window. The van idled for a while, shaking slightly in the lot. The two held their breath, scared that Lucien, Bo, or both would come bounding out looking for them.

“What do we do?” asked Bernard.

“I ain’t moving while that van is out there.”

They watched, trembling, until they saw the van swing back out onto the road. Both let out a deep sigh of relief.

“OK, memorize the direction, so we can walk back.”

“It’s going to be a long walk.”

“Well, I sure as hell ain’t hitching no more.”

They both let out a long breath and walked up to the counter. A fat, sullen clerk put down a comic book and looked out at them. They were relieved to see it was an X-Men.

“Do you know what goes into a Piña Colada?”

The man stared at them for a second and then pulled a bottle of some bilious white liquid out from under the counter.

“Rum and Piña Colada mix,” he said.

 

A Smell Of Ozone Blows Up

A smell of ozone blows up from the Dodgem cars out of the gray steel girderwork along the promenade, along with smells of shellfish on the barrows, and of salt sea. The pebbled beach is crowded with families: shoeless fathers in lounge suits and high white collars, mothers in blouses and skirts startled out of war-long camphor sleep, kids running all over in sunsuits, nappies, rompers, short pants, knee socks, Eton hats. There are ice cream, sweets, Cokes, cockles, oysters and shrimps with salt and sauce. The pinball machines writhe under the handling of fanatical servicemen and their girls, throwing body-english, cursing, groaning as the bright balls drum down the wood obstacle courses through ka-chungs, flashing lights, thudding flippers. The donkeys hee-haw and shit, the children walk in it and their parents scream. Men sag in striped canvas chairs talking business, sports, sex, but most usually politics.

—-Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Crystal Beach, Texas

The Emptiness Below Us

“Anyone whose goal is ‘something higher’ must expect someday to suffer vertigo. What is vertigo? Fear of falling? No, Vertigo is something other than fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves.”
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Crystal Beach, Bolivar Peninsula, Texas

Now, here is is, the first day of a spanking new year. And I have these goals for 2018 – I’ve worked hard on these… and the main three are:

  • Read 100 books
  • Write 50 Short Stories
  • Ride 3000 miles on my bike.

Since this is only the beginning, I didn’t want to get behind right at the start. So I cheated on the reading a hundred books – and jumped the gun by starting two weeks early. I’m up to six so far… which is good. I’ve already written one short story – so I’m OK there.

But I am stuck in a beach house with no bicycle and freezing cold… incredible wind… what we used to call a blue norther. I had planned on a little flexibility on my goal – knowing that I get sick over the winter and need other means to keep up with my goal.

At home, I have two exercise bikes – so I decided that riding one of those is worth ten miles for each hour riding. That way I can keep up if I’m forced inside.

At the beach house I thought about it and decided that, in a pinch, I can walk to make up the goal. Only in emergency situations, like now – the first day. After some thought and internet research, I decided on a three mile walk, at a brisk pace, would equal ten miles of riding. I walk at about three miles per hour, so that’s about an hour – which corresponds with riding or stationary. Also, that’s in addition to whatever I walk on a normal basis – the usual strutting around doesn’t count.

So at the end of the day, I layered on as much as I could (the temperature was below freezing and the wind was… really strong. I walked out to the beach and watched the kids fire off the last of their fireworks, then headed out down the beach. There is a little creek that emerges from the dunes and blocks off the rest of the beach from where we were and I knew that to that creek and back would get me to the three miles I needed.

I started out into the wind, pulling my hood closed so I was looking out a tiny circle at the water on the right and the dunes on the left. The moon was full, so there was plenty of light. It was very cold. But I started walking.

And it put me into the thought of all the other times over my life that I had walked on the beach, especially at night. From Panama to Nicaragua, to South Padre Island over spring break (That was a long drive from Lawrence, Kansas) to this very beach over the years with my kids growing larger and larger.

There is a rhythm of walking on the beach, in the wet sand between the surf and the loose part (in Texas it is generally allowed to drive on the beach, so, especially at night, you want to stay close to the surf), as the time and the miles go by all those old memories become telescoped in to the present day, the experience of being and moving along a border between two worlds.

It was a lot easier to walk back with the wind behind me. So now I have the equivalent of ten miles of bike riding on the first day of January. Still on track – so good, so far.

The Hubris of Men

“This is the story of Isaac and his time in America, the last turning of the centuries, when the hubris of men led them to believe they could disregard even nature itself.”
― Erik Larson, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History

Oblique Strategy: Children -speaking -singing

When our kids were young we used to come over Thanksgiving, or over New Year, or both – to rent a beach house at Crystal Beach on the Bolivar Peninsula, just east of Galveston, Texas. In the off season you could rent an old rickety beach house for almost nothing. It was great with high maintenance kids like ours- there were only two directions they could go on the beach and nothing they could destroy. It was the best of times.

We had to stop going because in 2008 Hurricane Ike wiped the low sandy Bolivar Peninsula clean.

Now, ten years later, a lot of the beach houses have been rebuilt. Their stilts are noticeably higher now, heavier and more numerous. So we rented one for New Year’s – Lee came from New Orleans and Nick from North of Houston.

It’s great to be back, the only problem is the weather is awful – cold, rainy, and very windy.

Lee walking in the surf at Crystal Beach. I checked my old blog entries – this was December 29, 2002. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.

Lee walking in roughly the same spot, fifteen years later. There was no sun and it was very cold and windy. Same ocean, though.

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Downtown Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 28 – The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde
Read it online here:
The Model Millionaire by Oscar Wilde

Unless one is wealthy there is no use in being a charming fellow. Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed. The poor should be practical and prosaic. It is better to have a permanent income than to be fascinating. These are the great truths of modern life which Hughie Erskine never realized. Poor Hughie! Intellectually, we must admit, he was not of much importance. He never said a brilliant or even an ill-natured thing in his life. But then he was wonderfully good-looking, with his crisp brown hair, his clear-cut profile, and his grey eyes. He was as popular with men as he was with women, and he had every accomplishment except that of making money.
—-Oscar Wilde, The Model Millionaire

Today’s story is a simple one – a man, not necessarily a great or charitable man, makes a great and charitable gesture, and suffers the consequences.

There is nobody better at writing aphorisms than Oscar Wilde. Even his fiction is generously sprinkled with entertaining pithy tidbits of wisdom that can be extracted and stand on their own. Finding these not-so-hidden jewels embedded in the text is one of the joys of reading Wilde.

Dorothy Parker said in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

A short list of Oscar Wilde Aphorisms (there are many, many more):

  1. I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability.
  2. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.
  3. Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
  4. It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
  5. The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself.
  6. Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.
  7. What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
  8. A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal.
  9. When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.
  10. There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.
  11. Memory is the diary that we all carry about with us.
  12. Woman begins by resisting a man`s advances and ends by blocking his retreat.
  13. Beware of women who do not hide their age. A woman who reveals her age is capable of anything.
  14. A thing is not necessarily right because a man dies for it.
  15. Art is the most intense form of individualism that the world has known.
  16. I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects. A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.
  17. Work is the curse of the drinking classes.
  18. Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
  19. True friends stab you in the front.
  20. Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.
  21. Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.
  22. I never put off till tomorrow what I can do the day after.
  23. Action is the last refuge of those who cannot dream.
  24. I can resist everything except temptation.
  25. I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
  26. The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.
  27. Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.
  28. Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
  29. There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
  30. Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike.
  31. How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?
  32. A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally.
  33. The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything.
  34. I like men who have a future and women who have a past.
  35. Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.

Oscar Wilde:

Upon the other hand, whenever a community or a powerful section of a community, or a government of any kind, attempts to dictate to the artist what he is to do, Art either entirely vanishes, or becomes stereotyped, or degenerates into a low and ignoble form of craft. A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. Its beauty comes from the fact that the author is what he is. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people want what they want. Indeed, the moment that an artist takes notice of what other people want, and tries to supply the demand, he ceases to be an artist, and becomes a dull or an amusing craftsman, an honest or a dishonest tradesman. He has no further claim to be considered as an artist. Art is the most intense mode of Individualism that the world has known. I am inclined to say that it is the only real mode of Individualism that the world has known. Crime, which, under certain conditions, may seem to have created Individualism, must take cognizance of other people and interfere with them. It belongs to the sphere of action. But alone, without any reference to his neighbors, without any interference, the artist can fashion a beautiful thing; and if he does not do it solely for his own pleasure, he is not an artist at all.
—-from The Soul of Man under Socialism

Rising cloud over the Hyatt, downtown Dallas, Texas

A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Jellyfish at Aurora, Dallas, Texas

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 27 – The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
Read it online here:

The Peaceable Night by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar

Suhaila toed the mass of jellyfish and thought, At least they don’t sting. The tide had deposited thousands of their bodies up and down the beach in thick clumps, clusters of sand-spackled flesh so glossy it might be mistaken for cellophane from far away. The domes of their bells lay scattered everywhere: tangled in kelp, indented by purple-bellied slipper shells, pierced by the black horns of mermaid’s purses.

—-Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar, The Peaceable Night

I remember once taking the ferry across from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula the water was full of jellyfish. I don’t mean a lot of jellyfish… I mean full – millions upon millions of huge, bluish bellshaped coelenterates – it seemed that they had displaced the ocean – there was more jellyfish than water. I don’t know what quirk of weather, currents, or tides produced this bounty, but it was beautiful and frightening at the same time.

Of course, I remember a less pleasant encounter. At the beach on South Padre Island a wave washed a Portuguese man o’ war (yeah, I know – they aren’t really jellyfish… so sue me) over me, the long tentacles draped across my arms. The pain was amazing. It hurt as much as any pain I’ve ever felt. It was more like an electric shock than a sting. I spent several days in bed, sick – my arms had needle tracks like a champion junky where the nematocysts punctured my skin in long lines twisting around my body.

Today’s story features a recent widow with a young daughter. They have recently purchased a beach house and are struggling to pull each other through the day. It is a story of jellyfish and beach cleaners and trying to save a little bit of something. It is a story of war and immigration and trying to get your life back.

It’s a good thing those jellyfish don’t sting. It’s a shame that almost everything else does.

Interview with Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar:

You started out as a scientific researcher. What made you leave that path to pursue writing?

To be honest, I was a writer long before I was a scientist. I wrote my first story in third grade—a spiral-bound, illustrated little story called “If I Were a Kitten for a Day”—and wrote novellas and a few just-for-fun fantasy novels in middle school and high school. I’m a writer for the same reason I was a scientist—I’m fascinated by how the world works. So I continued to write throughout high school, college, and grad school, which resulted in a much better knowledge of and appreciation for the craft of writing. Along the way, I also studied science, because there were questions about the world that I wanted answers to. I’ve always been a curious person.

Writing has always been a necessary part of who I am. For me, writing is like a reflex; it’s how I process my experiences and the world around me. It keeps me sane. So while I eventually realized that academic science was not the right career path for me in the long term, my passion for writing only grew stronger.

—-From Creative Quibble

Red Jellyfish, from the Aurora Preview

What I learned this week, March 30, 2012

In his defense of Obamacare, the Solicitor General quoted from the Preamble to the Constitution. I’m sorry, but I wasn’t immediately familiar with the exact wording of the Preamble – but I found this video that explains it all.


Strangest of Places



Abundance Is Our Future (and We All Know It)


A Museum on the Streets of Rome



The odd and amazing story of Sealand

Sealand is a small country located off the British coast on an abandoned WWII artillery platform in the North Sea.



Things I want to do in Dallas (coming up)

Candy and I have tickets to the SavorDallas Wine and Food Stroll tonight down in the Arts District. I bought them for her birthday.

The Deep Ellum Arts Festival is coming up April 6-8th. My favorite band, Brave Combo will be there. I’m trying to save enough cash to buy another sculpture by David Pound.

April 14th is Ciclovia de Dallas – where the Houston Street Viaduct will be closed to traffic and open only to bicycles. Looks like fun – another bridge party.

Free concerts in the Dallas Arts District. Unfortunately, these are on Thursdays and my writing group meets then – but I might be able to work something out.

Any other ideas? What am I missing?

Free Things to do in Dallas


For all of you Mad Men fans out there:


Seven Things I Wish I’d Have Known When I First Became A Photographer

  1. Care about what you are photographing
  2. Learn how to use your camera and stop changing systems
  3. It’s not the camera that makes the shot – it’s the photographer
  4. Find the light first, the background second and the subject third
  5. If you photograph people or make pictures professionally understand that being nice is better than being good
  6. The best photographs in the world happen when …. there is solid, real emotion and/or love
  7. Serious photography is about protecting memories, telling stories, keeping moments

Sorry, I’m sure this is more interesting to me than it is to you….