Now He Dances To Bring Her Back

“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger.”
― Emily Jane Brontë , Wuthering Heights

Dancers, Arts District, Dallas

Dancers, Arts District, Dallas

Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs Goes Woke

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

Brave Combo

Ok, first, let me admit a few things:

  1. I’m an old man. Nobody cares what I think.
  2. I listen to mostly classical music (if I were to make a list of “Greatest Songs” it would have such things as Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Nessun Dorma!, and 9th Symphony 4th Movement Ode to Joy.
  3. I don’t consider Hip Hop to be music. I think it is primarily an invention of the Big Corporation Music Industry to construct a genre of popular music that is designed to maximize record company profits with minimal risk and effort. I know this is not a popular opinion, but it is one that I am sure is at least partially true.
  4. I am so, so sick of Autotune. My ears can pick up any excessive use of that evil technology and will switch away from it. I feel it removes all emotion and feeling from music – leaving behind boring noise. There are very few popular songs released in the last decade that aren’t ruined by Autotune.

With those points out of the way, I will rant about the release of the 2021 Rolling Stone top 500 songs.

Rolling Stone magazine released a new version of their 500 Greatest Songs list, the first in 17 years. The magazine, in an introduction to the list, notes, ‘a lot has changed since 2004; back then the iPod was relatively new, and Billie Eilish was three years old. So we’ve decided to give the list a total reboot . . . The result is a more expansive, inclusive vision of pop, music that keeps rewriting its history with every beat.’

Bullshit.

I enjoyed the old versions of the lists. I would look through the list and see if I could find something that I had forgotten about or maybe underrated… it was a good source of musical education and ideas. There were, of course, disagreements between me and the lists… but all in all there was mutual respect.

But the new list… There are 254 songs that weren’t in the 2004 list… that means that more than half of the greatest songs of 2004 are no longer great. Let’s see…

Starting at the top… a new #1 – Respect by Aretha Franklin. I have absolutely no problem with that. It’s up there with maybe five others that could be rotated in and out. Personally, I would put Layla in at #1 – which in 2004 was 27, between A Day in the LIfe and (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay. OK, good stuff all. This year, Layla drops all the way to 224… WTF?

But in the 2021 list, problems start with #2 – instead of Satisfaction (by the Stones) we have Fight the Power by Public Enemy. Ok, not that bad of a song… but #2… over Satisfaction, which drops all the way to #31, right below Royals by Lorde. Really?

You might like Lorde… but is she better than The Rolling Stones? I don’t think so. Royals is catchy… but it doesn’t belong on any all-time list. If anybody, and I mean anybody is still listening to that in twenty years (or even five years) I will be shocked. Satisfaction was released fifty-six years ago, more than half a century, and has held up – it’s as spine-tingling today as the day it was released.

So, let’s talk about age. I know I’m old… but…. I downloaded the 2021 list into a spreadsheet and sorted them by year released. There are nineteen songs released the year I was born, 1957 (I told you I was old) or older. Here they are:

242Great Balls of FireJerry Lee Lewis1957
216Jailhouse RockElvis1957
124That’ll Be the DayBuddy Holly1957
80What’d I SayRay Charles1957
347Heartbreak HotelElvis1956
299I Put a Spell on YouJay Hawkins1956
170In the Still of the NiteFive Satins1956
147Blueberry HillFats Domino1956
76I Walk the LineJohnny Cash1956
425Mannish BoyMuddy Waters1955
277Bo DiddleyBo Diddley1955
102MaybellineChuck Berry1955
35Tutti FruttiLittle Richard1955
318Hound DogBig Mama Thornton1953
237Your Cheatin’ HeartHank Williams1953
229This Land is Your LandWoody Guthrie1951
165I’m So Lonesome I Could CryHank Williams1949
21Strange FruitBillie Holiday1939
481Cross Road BluesRobert Johnson1937

That is a hell of a selection. They are older than I am and I have heard them all a thousand times and they are all great. The highest rated is Strange Fruit and the lowest is Mannish Boy.

So here are the nineteen newest songs on the list:

438Savage (Remix)Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyonce2020
346DynamiteBTS2020
329SafaeraBad Bunny2020
490Old Town RoadLil Nas X2019
178Bad GuyBillie Eilish2019
137Thank U, NextArianna Grande2019
384I Like ItCardi B2018
497Truth HurtsLizzo2017
428Sign of the TimesHarry Styles2017
487Cranes in the SkySolange2016
451Bad and BoujeeMigos2016
383RedboneChildish Gambino2016
73FormationBeyonce2016
417Uptown FunkMark Ronson2015
373Hotline BlingDrake2015
45AlrightKendrick Lamar2015
357Blank SpaceTaylor Swift2014
465Get LuckyDaft Punk2013
362Merry Go RoundKacey Musgraves2013

Do you want to know how many of these I am familiar with – how many I recognize… none. Absolutely none. I’m sure if you played these for me a few would catch my ear… a hook that I remember as I reached for the radio dial, maybe. But do I think I regret not knowing any of these…? I don’t think so.

Looking down the list in order of dates, the newest one I recognize is Summertime Sadness by Lana del Rey. I’m actually a fan of her. But do I think Summertime Sadness is one of the 500 greatest songs of all time? Hell no.

Next to Summertime Sadness is Call me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen. That is certainly a catchy little tune… but is it Great? Is in one of the Best? No, no, no.

At one time Rolling Stone represented Rock and Roll, which represented rebellion and innovation. It does not represent that anymore. It represents Wokeness and Diversity… which is Rebellion and Innovation run through the filter of Corporate Profits and Elitism until it is an evil mutation.

And that is all I’m going to say today. I have to go outside and yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Pink Moon

Saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get ye all

—-Nick Drake Pink Moon

The moon rising over the Dallas skyline and the pond at Trammell Crow Park. From the October Full Moon Ride.

I was driving in to work, the morning sun still a burning ball stuck to the horizon, listening to the local eclectic FM radio station. I wasn’t paying much attention until a song I don’t think I had heard before came on – the speakers let loose with some amazing excellent guitar finger picking. For a second, I though maybe Trace Bundy or Nils Lofgren… but then the singing started. The voice was delicate and unique – the lyrics mysterious and elegiac. The arrangement was simple – guitar, bass, congas. Perfect. An amazing song.

That’s why I listed to that station in the car (or Radio Paradise at home) – to discover something that I had missed before… a new rabbit hole to fall down. At the next red light I grabbed my phone and checked the station’s playlist. It was a song called Three Hours, by Nick Drake.

That evening I sat down and listened to all of Nick Drake’s discography (only three albums). I read all I could find about his heartbreaking story – he struggled with depression and died at 26 of an overdose of anti-depressants (maybe suicide, maybe not).

As his depression worsened he moved back in with his parents. He could not perform live (he was always shy and remote on stage – even at his best). There are no films or live recordings, no nothing other than the three strange and wonderful albums he cranked out – plus a few outtakes and oddities.

His last album, Pink Moon, spoke to me particularly. He was the only performer on the album, singing and playing acoustic guitar with a single piano overdub on the title track.

Nick Drake was almost completely unknown during his life. His music was liked by those in the know but it didn’t fit any category (too jazzy for folk, too folky for jazz, too unique for anything else). But after his death, his popularity began to slowly grow. He gained a bit of posthumous fame when Volkswagen used Pink Moon in one of their commercials for the Cabriolet. Sales in the U.S. of the album grew from a measly 6,000 copies, to 74,000 copies in 2000. As of 2004 it had sold 329,000 copies in the United States.

The music sounds familiar to me, though I don’t remember the commercial:

I’ve been listening to this song over and over.

Homeward Bound

I’m sittin’ in the railway station
Got a ticket to my destination
On a tour of one-night stands
My suitcase and guitar in hand
And every stop is neatly planned
For a poet and a one-man band

—-Paul Simon, Homeward Bound

The view from the parking lot as I go home from work. Dallas, Texas

I was driving in to work – I often listen to podcasts in my car, but today I had KXT 91.7 (listen here) on the radio. I always love that station – no commercials, no stupid DJ yakking yet DJ curated, and a wide variety of tunes. As I pulled into my parking spot and began to put my mask on the Simon and Garfunkel chestnut Homeward Bound came on. A great song. I sat there and listened to it before trudging across the parking lot.

Afterward they said, “Homeward Bound, an early Simon and Garfunkel tune, from 1966.”

1966. I was nine years old. I remember 1966. I wasn’t listening to very much music then and don’t remember Homeward Bound when it came out. But I was starting. I do remember a television documentary on the burgeoning folk scene featuring interviews with Simon and Garfunkel. I didn’t know who they were and wondered if I’d ever hear anything from them. Four years later Bridge Over Troubled Water was released and I remember the exact spot where my father’s car was when I first heard it on the radio.

Sitting down and looking through the hit songs from each year – I started listening in 1967. My family was not musical and I had to pick it up on my own, mostly from friends. By 1968 I was listening to the radio a lot and by 1969 I eagerly awaited every Friday and that week’s top forty announcement on WHB (the wet hamburger station) out of Kansas City.

So I guess I can say I started listening to popular music in 1966 or so. That was fifty five years ago.

It doesn’t seem like that long. Things have changed (especially the digital revolution) but 1966 wasn’t that much different. One way to look at it was they were playing a song from 1966 on the radio on my way to work and nobody thought much about it.

I was born nine years earlier, in 1957. That does seem like a different age. The sixties were a real watershed – where things changed in a significant, permanent way. But still… there was rock and roll, at least the stirrings of rock and roll, in 1957 (Rock Around the Clock came out in 1954).

But go in the other direction – fifty five years before 1957 was 1902. That’s hard for me to comprehend. One year before the Wright brothers first flew. World War I was a decade away. The Roaring twenties two decades – the depression and dust bowl three decades away. WWII a nightmare far into the future. Now, I did look at the top songs of 1902 and was shocked that I was familiar with a few of them – and the #18 song won an Academy Award in 1974 and rose to #4 on the charts at that time….

But still, I can’t even imagine 1902. My grandfather wasn’t born yet. Yet it’s the same distance in time from my birth as Homeward Bound is from today. Years and years.

Every day’s an endless stream
Of cigarettes and magazines
And each town looks the same to me
The movies and the factories
And every stranger’s face I see
Reminds me that I long to be

Homeward bound

It’s Bad You Know

Woke up this morning, feel ’round for my shoes
You know ’bout that babe, had them old walkin’ blues
Woke up this morning, I feel ’round for my shoes

You know ’bout that babe
Lord, I had them old walkin’ blues

Leavin’ this morning, I had to go ride the blinds
I’ve been mistreated, don’t mind dying
This morning, I had to go ride the blinds

I’ve been mistreated
Lord, I don’t mind

People tell me walkin’ blues ain’t bad
Worst old feeling I most ever had
People tell me the old walkin’ blues ain’t bad

Well, it’s the worst old feeling
Lord, I most ever had

—- R.L. Burnside – Walkin’ Blues

Dan Colcer Deep Ellum Art Park Dallas, Texas

Sometimes, when I’m driving my car… and I’m driving more than I like, because of COVID changes it’s impossible for me to ride my bike to work… I listen to podcasts from my phone. That takes too much fiddling and setup though – and I’m late in the morning and lazy in the afternoon. So I listen to a local radio station – KXT91.7 (you can listen online no matter where you live) – it’s a great station: no commercials, the DJs pick their own music and don’t talk (I hate the cackling stupid jokes of regular radio) and they sometimes they play your favorite music. Sometimes, best of all, they play stuff you’ve never heard before.

On my way in to work yesterday I heard some music I had never heard before and thought it was great. At my desk I looked up their playlist and found what I had heard was a North Mississippi blues master R. L. Burnside. The song on the radio was It’s Bad You Know from the album Come On In.

In this album, released in 1998, Burnside’s classic acoustic blues is mixed with modern electronic beats into a sort of hybrid dance music. From the wikipedia notes:

The album was expected to alienate purist fans of blues, but sold strongly, and peaked at number 20 on the Core Radio Chart. In addition to significant airplay, an ensuing music clip was slotted in MTV’s 120 Minutes. By March 1999, it had become Epitaph’s best-selling record, despite the label being, at its core, an outlet for punk rock. Burnside said that fans loved the album, feeling that both it and Ass Pocket “brought more crowds to the blues. They love it.” He reckoned that this was due to “trying to make people dance to the blues again.”

I had never heard of this album or R. L. Burnside… which is not surprising – in 1998 I had a couple of young kids running around the house and was isolated from the real world. I did have at least one song of his – doing Dylan’s Everything is Broken from Tangled Up In Blues but had never really followed down that particular rabbit hole.

Thanks to Spotify I now have ready access to R. L. Burnside and his catalog. Great stuff.

From my comments – check this out – Livin’ the Blues

Flash Fiction of the day, The Skins by Tyler Barton

“The only truth is music.”
― Jack Kerouac

Back Tattoo in a street band.

I have a lot to do – but I’m tired and I have an Echo Dot hooked up to a soundbar next to my bed and Spotify. I lie in bed and think of classic albums. I say out loud, “Alexa, play Dark Side of the Moon,” or “Alexa play Goodbye to the Yellow Brick Road,” or “Alexa play The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” or ….

Today we have a music related flash fiction:

The Skins by Tyler Barton

 

Short Story of the day, Caltrops by Tim Pratt

“And to these beautiful two children
And to my sweet and tender wife
I will love you three forever
Through I fly beyond this life”
― Lyle Lovett, The Twelfth of June

Design District Dallas, Texas

Tonight we spent ten dollars and bought an online concert with Lyle Lovett and Chris Isaak – each singing alone and separate. The sang with acoustic guitars unaccompanied. It was genius – the best ten bucks we ever spent.

Chris Isaak singing Wicked Games solo was amazing – a wildly different take on a very familiar song. So was Baby Did A Bad Bad Thing.

Lyle Lovett, of course, was incredible. On My Boat is one of my favorites of all time. He sang a beautiful, sad, new song called Twelfth of June that was absolutely gorgeous, breathtaking, and heartbreaking. I hope he records it soon.

The pandemic forced these two great musicians into this weird pay-per-view format, but it was stunning and so much fun.

Plus, here’s a quick, fun flash fiction.

Caltrops by Tim Pratt

 

In Praise of Spotify

“What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited..”
Alex, A Clockwork Orange

There was live music at the start.

There was an apocalyptic time, long long ago, when I lived for a while in a tent with a couple of other guys. All we had for music was a little plastic battery-powered record player and two albums – Santana Abraxas and Traffic Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. We would listen to them over and over – and buy a lot of batteries.

When I was in college I didn’t have a stereo. I was jealous of friends that did and would spend as much time as I could wrangle at their places listening to music. I was a pest. Listening to good quality music was an expensive luxury.

On my own, as a working stiff – there was a long series of music related technological advances that came and went (and some times came and went again) – 8-Track, Cassettes, LP Vinyl, Reel-to-Reel, Dolby, subwoofers, CD, 5 – channel… on and on. The Walkman was particularly amazing to me – personal, portable, decent quality affordable music – a revelation. This was truly the best of all possible worlds.

And now, in the midst of my old geezerhood, I have finally caught up and have a paid membership to Spotify. And it is amazing. Desktop, laptop, phone, tablet – the entire history of music spread out before me like a groaning buffet table of sound.

Sure, it’s more than a little unnerving to have a giant computer somewhere checking on what I’m listening to and devising playlists that it thinks I might like… unnerving but also useful.

And now I have hooked my Spotify account up with a bluetooth soundbar and a couple of Amazon Echo Dots…. I can lie in my bed and call out, “Alexa, please play album Santana Abraxas,” or “Alexa, please play album Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” I don’t know why I always say “please.”


I stumbled across this odd song and now it’s stuck in my head.

It’s called Prisencolinensinainciusol.

A big hit in Italy – the lyrics are gibberish, but designed to sound like English to non-English speaking listeners. It’s strange, but weirdly addictive. Believe it or not but Alexa will find it on Spotify.

Short Story Of the Day – Slow Advance by Bill Chance

“No sensible man ever engages, unprepared, in a fencing match of words with a woman.”
― Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White

Apartment Building, The Cedars, Dallas, 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 (#68) More than two thirds 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.


 

Slow Advance

I finally kicked down the neighbors’ door to find they had moved out. All that was left was a recording of them arguing. At full volume. I saw the eight track player. My father showed me one of those once and explained the tape inside was a loop. It would never stop. I stood there, gobsmacked.

The sound system was sitting on the threadbare shag carpet. There was absolutely nothing else in the apartment.  I turned the volume knob down and hit the blue led-lit power switch. It turned to red. I spun around and headed home. I had splintered the door jamb, so the door wouldn’t latch. In the hallway I paused, returned, and pulled the eight track cartridge.

“That was quick,” Jane said as I walked back in, “what the hell is that in your hand.” I set the tape down on the coffee table and she handed me my beer. It was still cold. Jane picked the eight track up and started to stare at it.

“They weren’t home,” I said.

“No, that’s impossible. We’ve been listening to them both scream at each other all day.”

“It wasn’t them, It was that,” I gestured at the tape.

“Well, at least it’s quiet now,” Jane said. “Hand me the remote, I want to watch Glee.”

I had to go into work early the next day and open up. Mr. Billet, the owner, called me and asked how business was.

“Slow as ever, boss.”

He sounded depressed. Nobody rents movies anymore, I don’t know how long he will stay in business. I don’t know how he’s stayed open this long – he must have money from his parents, I know he lives with his mom. She’s really old. I called Jane in the afternoon at work. She runs the counter from noon to six at Simon’s Pawn down on Forester street.

“Hey, Jane, do you have any eight track players in the pawn shop?”

“Hell no. Nobody’s seen one of those this century. Why?”

“I want to listen to the tape. I want to hear what they are arguing about.”

“Well, good luck with that.” Jane said this in that tone of voice that I hate so much, that “Why do I bother with this loser” tone. It made me mad enough to slam the phone down.

That little bit of mad stayed in my head all day. It stayed enough that I couldn’t sleep. Well after midnight I laid there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about everything that had happened, that I was afraid was going to happen, when , in between Jane’s sawing snores, I heard it.

Crying, mostly. A long, slow, quiet weeping that would build over a few minutes then build quickly into a few seconds of loud wailing, then it would die down to silence. If I listened carefully, I could hear a few minutes of quiet mumbling, barely audible, and an evil muttering laugh. Then the crying would start again.

“Jane, wake up,” I shook her shoulder.

“God no! Not now.”

“No, not that, listen.”

“Shit, I was asleep. You take care of it.”

The super had nailed a strip of wood over the broken jamb and locked the door. A shoulder and the thing sprung open. There it was again – the big blue light, and another tape stuck in the player. I hit the button, pulled the tape and went home.

I put the tape cassette on the coffee table next the the first one. I turned on the lamp by the couch and looked them both over. They were different colors, the arguing tape was red and the crying one a faded blue. They looked crude, homemade, with no labels. The only markings were handwritten numbers – 4 on the first, 7 on the second.

When I came in to work the next day, Mr. Billet was leaned over a big book he carried, full of lines and tables of numbers. He looked really depressed.

“Mr. Billet,” I said, “Do you have an eight track player I could borrow? Maybe a portable one?” I knew he and his mom had all sorts of old crap around their place, he had been asking me about eBay the last week, wondering if he could sell some stuff to help make ends meet.”

“Sure, what do you need it for?”

“Oh, I found these old tapes and I wanted to listen to them… By the way, could you record on the things?”

“Oh, most people only played them. Mostly in their cars. But I remember a few units, some of the very first ones, had recording capability. Not very popular… but it was there.”

He brought in this huge, nasty-looking boombox thing after lunch and I lugged it out to my car. At home I set it up on the coffee table and when she saw it, Jane didn’t like it. Not at all.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

“But I want to listen to the tapes.”

“What the hell for? Our crazy neighbors tape themselves arguing and play it all night long to drive us crazy and what the hell do I care! Don’t encourage them!”

She was furious. I was too. I started to scream back.

“All I want to do is to listen to something and you won’t even give me that much satisfaction! I am sick of this crap!…..”

On and on it went. Man, that woman had some lungs. And one hell of a memory. Things I had done years ago, when we had first met… she threw it out at me like it had happened yesterday. We built higher and higher until we weren’t even sure what we were screaming about any more, we just screamed.

She grabbed the tapes and hurled them at the wall, I stuck a paw out and deflected one onto the couch, where it bounced harmlessly. The other smashed and and splinters of blue plastic flew out in an explosion of fragments. I looked and saw a tangled mass of brown tape sliding down the wall.

Jane reached for the giant boom box but before she could smash it I gave her a push. She stumbled back and went down over the corner of the coffee table. I was scared she was hurt, but she popped right back up and stormed out without saying a word.

So that was that. I felt like my guts had been pulled out through my mouth. I sat for a long time, staring at the open front door, watching the hall as the light faded. Finally, I stood, closed the door, and turned to the one good tape and the boom box.

I had heard it before, of course, but muffled by the thin apartment walls. When it was played next door I could hear arguing, but not the individual words – not even the individual voices.

At first, the arguing couple on the tape wasn’t speaking English. It was some guttural language, maybe Eastern European. Of course, I had no idea what they were talking about, but they were sure going at it. After about five minutes of this, of escalating anger, there was a slamming door, and then the tape went silent for a few seconds. I thought I could hear some humming, but that was about it.

Then another argument started. This one was in English, but it wasn’t from around here. It was English English, or maybe Australian, I don’t know. It was another couple and they were arguing about money. He didn’t make enough, she spent too much, it was tearing them apart. They had the most foul speech I had ever heard. It was so weird to hear such awful language coming out in that delicate British accent, it made me chuckle a bit. Then, he accused her of seeing somebody else, she didn’t exactly deny it, there was another door slam, and that was that.

The next argument was in Japanese. Or maybe Chinese, or Korean, I don’t know. This was getting boring. Instead of getting louder like the other two, this couple mostly just kept yelling faster and faster. I was caught off guard when the door slammed and the tape went silent.

“Well, this is a bunch of shit,” I said to myself as I reached out to turn the tape off. Right when my finger touched the button. A voice came screaming out. It was the next argument. This voice I recognized.

“Get that ugly-ass damn thing out of here!” she yelled. “Right now!”

It was Jane. It was the argument we had just had two hours before. Then out came a voice saying the same words I had spouted.

I fell back stunned while Jane and I hammered at each other on the tape. It sounded revolting, both of us, recorded there for everyone to hear.

Then, the door slam. The hum. I couldn’t move. A couple started fighting in Spanish.

What the helll! This was impossible. How could the tape possibly have a fight on it that hadn’t happened yet?

I pulled the tape out but forgot to turn the player off first. The tape caught and the box suddenly started spitting out a big tangled mess. I couldn’t stop it. I dropped the whole thing on the floor and stared at the useless box of plastic and the mound of snarled tape.

What had I just heard? I must have imagined it. It must be my upset state.

Shaken to the core, I stumbled into bed. I fell asleep but woke up from a horrible nightmare. I couldn’t remember what it was but I was drenched in sweat. I lay there tossing until I caught myself moaning and then I started to cry. As I tasted the salt of my tears I suddenly started awake. I sat up and thought of the blue tape, the one Jane had thrown against the wall. It was a tape of someone upset – moaning and crying. Who was it? Was it me? Who was laughing on the tape?

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

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Car fire just north of downtown, Dallas.


 

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 (#66) Two Thirds of the way! What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Tailgate

 

Charlotte DeWhiskey moved to her left carefully using he turn signal and checking all the mirrors, twisting her neck and looking back.

“You never know who might be driving along in your blind spot,” she said calmly – to nobody in particular.

It was Friday afternoon, not quite Rush Hour yet, but the loop interstate’s six lanes going her way were full – but still moving fast. She glanced across the median and saw traffic was stopped going the other way.

“Whew! I feel sorry for those folks,” she said to herself while she adjusted her radio – pushing to the second button to call up the classical station, dialing the volume until César Franck’s First Piano Trio in F Sharp Minor filled the passenger cabin without quite drowning the sounds of the traffic outside.

“That’s nice,” she said and smiled a little at the familiar tune.

Charlotte waited patiently for one more gap to open to her left, applied her signals, and slid into the inside lane, right against the segmented moveable concrete barrier of he High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. She had seven miles to go on the Interstate Loop before she would have to exit on Walnut to get to the “Friends of the Symphony” offices. She was going to meet with Frieda and work on the upcoming fundraiser gala. Frieda meant well, but she was pretty useless for getting things done. With Frieda it was all, “This would be cool!” or “That will be fun!” – but ideas are cheap and Charlotte knew that if she didn’t take care of the actual work, the gala would be a disaster.

She felt a little butterfly of nerves – the gala was so important for so many people – and she wished it didn’t all fall completely on her shoulders – like it always seemed to do – but she had done it before and she could do it again.

Now that she was in the far left lane, Charlotte settled in and set her cruise control on sixty – the legal speed limit along that part of the highway. She kept her foot on the brake and her eyes alert.

“You never know when the traffic is going to come to a stop. If you hit someone from behind it will always be your fault,” she said clearly to herself. It never hurt to remind oneself of the rules of civilized living, especially in these troubled and confusing times.

There didn’t seem to be much danger of Charlotte having to slow down. As a matter of fact, cars were piling up behind her – moving to the right when they could, and merging back once they passed, speeding off into the space her relatively slow (but legal) progress created in the lane going forward. Charlotte noticed this, but it didn’t concern her in the least; she was used to it.

“Just because everybody else is speeding, doesn’t mean you have to,” she said, though there was nobody to hear.

One car, now, had pulled up, but it wasn’t passing. Charlotte could only see the front of the vehicle and she knew little about cars – didn’t recognize the make – but noticed the low-slung, streamlined, custom grill and the polished Navy blue metallic paint. The windows in the car behind her were tinted, but the sun was slanting directly through his windshield so she could make out the driver bobbing and gesturing behind his wheel. He flashed his lights quickly and moved forward until he was following only a few feet behind her rear bumper.

“Just because you want to speed doesn’t mean I should break the law,” Charlotte repeated out loud, directly at the image of the tailgater in the mirror – as if he could hear her. “You should have at least one car length between you and the car in front of you for each ten miles per hour you are traveling,” she added for increased effect.

The tailgater couldn’t hear her, of course, and had no intention of slowing down or going around. The left lane, the fast lane, was his. As a precaution, Charlotte pushed the little arrow button for a split second, shaving about two miles per hour off her speed, carefully and precisely regulated by the digital cruise control. The tailgater moved even closer and Charlotte could hear his horn blaring over the sounds of traffic – and “Finlandia” – one of her favorite pieces – which had only just started playing on the radio. She put on a little frown at this interruption and stared carefully into the mirror. She couldn’t make out the tailgater’s face due to the tinting but she could clearly see his arm come up in silhouette, waving his middle finger extended.

Charlotte picked up her cell phone, next to her purse in the passenger seat connected to a charger stuck in the cigarette lighter outlet. She didn’t like to use her cell phone when she was driving, it wasn’t safe.

“Sometimes,” she said out loud, “Things simply can’t be helped!”

Charlotte punched through the “F”s in her contact list and rang Frieda’s number. Frieda picked up almost immediately.

“Frieda, dear, how are you? Well, I’m doing great too! Well, Frieda, I am afraid, though, that I have one little problem. I’m not going to be able to make our meeting this afternoon, sorry. Oh, good, we’ll reschedule in a day or so. Why? Oh, no big deal, really, but I’m about to be involved in an automobile accident…. Toodles!”

Before Frieda could reply, Charlotte snapped her phone closed, disconnected it from the charger, and dropped it into her purse.

She checked her mirror again. The tailgater was still there – he had inched even closer. He was honking his horn constantly – he must have been palming it with his left hand, while he steered with it, Charlotte thought, because she could see his right hand violently waving his middle finger… only lowering for a second or two so he could use it to flash his lights before bringing it up again.

“Not a very alert or safe way to drive in traffic,” Charlotte said to the mirror as she raised her right foot off of the brake. She bent her knee as far as she could; the cruise control would keep her speed constant. Once her leg touched the back of the steering wheel she braced her back against the seat and shoved down as hard as she could, slamming her brake pedal to the floor.

As her tires locked and screeched, tearing hunks of rubber off onto the tarmac Charlotte smiled at the thought that she had carefully followed the manufacturer’s recommendations and had the brake system serviced – the best quality pads installed – disks carefully turned and balanced.


Melvin Turnbuckle was so angry at the crazy woman snoozing along in the fast lane and was so close to her bumper he never even noticed her brake lights come on – not that it would have made any difference at that space and speed. It seemed that the woman’s sedan had been shot backwards out of a cannon, slamming into the front of his car without warning.

The two vehicles locked together in a maelstrom of rending metal. They drifted to the left – momentum still hurling the hulks forward – until the rough concrete barrier wall tore chunks of screaming steel away from the driver’s side of each car. Power and impulse spent, they separated and stopped ten feet apart, steaming, smoking, spewing fluids black, brown, and bright green, creaking, popping, – the dire smell of fuel and burnt rubber blowing across the highway.

Behind them, thousands of brakes squealed and tires skidded as the entire six lanes ground to a halt for miles.

It all happened so fast Melvin never had the chance to quell his fury, no time to even feel the fear. He stepped from the wreckage and strode forward, seeing a slight woman pull herself from the pile of twisted sheet metal in front of him. She stood upright, weaving a tiny bit, a small trickle of blood running down past one eye.

“Lady! What the hell!”

“Oh,” Charlotte noticed him and replied. “God, what a sound! I’m always amazed at the music of these things, the sound it all makes from inside, from when you’re sitting in there. The screech at the start, the tires squealing… and at the end, the explosion of the airbags. in between the cries of the bending metal – it makes that astonishing noise, almost like a human voice in pain.”

“What are you talking about? Oh my God! You did that on purpose! You’re crazy.”

Charlotte’s eyes rolled. “I always follow the letter of the law. I can’t help it if you are following too close. If you hit someone from behind, it’s always your fault.”

The anger and the jolts of adrenaline felt like high voltage coursing through Melvin’s body. He could feel his eyes popping and his mouth going so dry he could barely speak. He doubled his fists in a primitive lizard-brain reflex and started to stumble toward Charlotte – not knowing exactly what would happen when he reached her.

Suddenly, blue and red flashing lights interrupted the scene and a patrol cruiser screamed past in the High Occupancy Vehicle Lane. He exited a quarter mile past and uturned into the vacant lane protected by their wreckage and sped back, parking at an angle to deflect the oncoming snail-like parade of commuters.


Officer Franklin Tenpenny was tired. He sighed when the call came in, another rear-ender along the Loop Interstate, his third one that day. Dispatch radioed that they were sending a couple wreckers so Tenpenny hit his lights and headed over that way.

When he walked up he found a man out of control, glaring, fists clenched, at a slight old woman – both standing between two steaming lumps of ex-automobiles.

“Sir, Sir! I need you to calm down. Calm down right now.”

“Officer, I am glad you are here. This bi… woman… she caused this accident. On purpose!”

“Sir, I was driving at the speed limit when I… I thought I saw a kitten in the highway.”

“A kitten! You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Officer, he must have been following too close – he smashed into me from behind – he must have been going too fast.”

Officer Tenpenny noticed the trickle of blood running down Charlotte’s cheek. He moved to wipe it with a clean handkerchief he always carried. “Ma’am, are you all right?”

“Yes, officer, it’s only a tiny cut. I’ll be fine.”

“Is She all right?” said Melvin Turnbuckle. “What about me? She caused this. On purpose!”

Tenpenny knew road rage when he saw it. Turnbuckle was getting more and more worked up and Tenpenny didn’t think he would calm down anytime soon. “Excuse me, Ma’am” he said to Charlotte as he moved away from her and palmed his radio. “Dispatch? I have an out of control driver here; better send a couple more cruisers.” He walked briskly toward Melvin, pulling his cuffs out of their case on his belt.

Charlotte watched Officer Tenpenny fold Melvin into the police cruiser. She flinched as Turnbuckle’s head bounced off the door frame. “You would think the police would have done this enough times to get him in there without banging his head,” she said out loud, but quietly, to nobody in particular. She was standing next to what was left of her car and she noticed the radio was still operating – the classical music still playing.

The disk jockey said, “That was the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt, one of my favorites. Now we bring you traffic on half-hour – If you are going home on the North Loop Interstate, dinner might be cold before you get there. An accident has snarled traffic in both directions, backup to the McDuffle Expressway Bridge.”