Off to the Big Easy

I’ll be in New Orleans for the New Orleans Writing Marathon for the next week. I’m taking my laptop, but I’m not sure if I’ll be posting here.

See you on the flipside.

(click to enlarge) Sixth and Camp in New Orleans – a beautiful row of Camelback Shotgun Houses

Meet In Air

“We should meet in another life, we should meet in air, me and you.”
Sylvia Plath

Found by a photobooth,
Molly’s At the Market, French Quarter, New Orleans

After they had communicated with each other, after having found each other, only over the waves of the internet – the two of them finally flew from each coast, West and East, to meet in New Orleans. It was like finding a long-lost sister… or an unimagined lover, or both. They spent the evening in a French Quarter bar drinking frozen Irish Coffees and gushing at each other. After texting and Skyping so much, years worth – they worried that there wouldn’t be anything left to say to each other… but the opposite was true. So many truths, so many secrets… even a few sweet, sweet, lies.

When they finally kissed in the photo booth behind the bar it was like a jolt of static electricity.

But what did they really know about each other? What do any of us.

 

King Rat

The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook fountain pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee

“There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets. . . when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.”
― Charles Bukowski, Notes of a Dirty Old Man

This summer, at the New Orleans Writing Marathon I found myself at the window at Molly’s at the Market trying to think of something to write about. I decided to put down on paper the struggle I had against a rat infestation and the King Rat behind it all. It didn’t seem very interesting (and a little embarrassing) to me, but when we read everyone seemed to like it.

So, I’ve typed it up from my notebook. Without further ado……

Molly’s At the Market
July 10

I live in Texas so every now and then there is a rat in the house. The most common are the tree rats – smaller grey slick-looking – they resemble large mice with longer tails. They are arboreal and often enter a house by dropping onto the roof from an overhanging tree. Like all rats and mice they can squeeze through any tiny, impossible space. Less often seen are the big ugly sewer rats, black and spiky. I’ve never seen one of those at home – but I live alongside a wooded creek – with my garage facing the trees so I’ve always had tree rat invaders.

Usually one or two – and handled with a trap or a bit of poison – which would leave a dead critter putrefying in the wall – stinking things up until the really warm weather arrived.

One summer, however, I had an infestation. I don’t really know how it happened – maybe I ignored the early warning signs – maybe I was lazy – but eventually I realized that there were rats everywhere.

I was feeling emotional so I read up on the most humane way to exterminate rats – even looking on Buddhist websites for ways to deal with vermin without destroying your Karma. Poison was out – too cruel. Some people like live traps but if you don’t release the trapped rat more than a mile away – they will come back. Rats are very territorial – if you take them beyond their territory they won’t last a day.

So the Internet recommended the old-fashioned snap trap – it kills, but it kills quickly. The big problem is that we have two dogs and any traps had to be kept away from them. Our dogs were old, blind, and lethargic – useless as ratters, but we didn’t want them to get hurt by a trap.

I bought a big jar of peanut butter and a collection of snap traps – a few old school wooden ones – though I had better luck with the modern plastic traps that have a platform for the rat to step on. I arranged these throughout the garage and in some spots (behind the refrigerator, inside drawers, and in the hot water heater cabinet) where the dogs couldn’t set them off.

And the slaughter began. My morning routine would be to carry traps with rats across the alley and let the limp body drop into the thick weeds under the trees. One morning there were two rats in the same trap. The bodies were always gone the next day – I guess the coyotes were coming up at night for a quick snack – a rat buffet.

I killed… maybe thirty rats. Over this time, they were getting smaller and smaller – until they looked more like mice to me.

We have hired a frighteningly effective exterminator at my work. He rid our million-square foot building of rats in a couple months. We call him, “The Rat Whisperer.” I asked him the difference between tree rats and mice.

“How long are their tails? Are they longer than the rest of their body?”

“Yes.”

“They are rats.”

I explained how the rats were getting smaller and smaller – and how I thought that soon they would all be gone.

“What you don’t understand,” the rat whisperer said, “Is that there is one big smart King Rat. He is sending those other rats out to bring food back to him. You will kill all the others until he is the only one left. He will be almost impossible to kill because he is so cautious and smart. That is how he became the King.”

The Rat Whisperer was exactly right. The traps were empty every morning but there was still an aggressive rat in the house. I would put, say, a strawberry down with four snap traps surrounding it and in the morning the fruit would be chewed or gone and the traps un-fired.

I decided that I had no choice but to bring out the big guns.

I spread talcum powder on the kitchen floor and looked for tiny footprints in the morning. There was a tiny gap in the molding by the dishwasher and the prints always lead to or from there. I put up baby gates to keep the dogs out of the kitchen and a big sheet of a sticky trap in front of the tiny hole. I woke up in the middle of the night to a tremendous racket. It took me a minute to get the nerve to go look – and that was too long. The sticky trap was in the living room, beyond the barrier of the baby gate, and covered in rat hair.

No King Rat.

And for weeks there was no sign. I figured he had been injured or frightened enough to go elsewhere. I was wrong… he was waiting me out.

So after a long time, he was back. Again, no food was safe – he nibbled everything that was not sealed up tight. So, again with the baby gates… again with the sticky trap – I went out and bought an ultra-strong professional premium version this time. Again, three in the morning, a huge racket from the kitchen. I ran to the sound, snapped on the light, and there was the biggest rat I had ever seen with the sticky trap on his back, trying to get back into his little hole.

And I realized I had not thought about this enough beforehand. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to touch the rat – he was way too big and mad and scared and would surely bite me if I got too close. If I did nothing he would soon yank himself off the sticky trap (like he must have before) and escape… and I didn’t want to go through this any more.

My mother in law had this grabber thing she used to pick stuff up without bending over – I fetched it from the closet and used it to grab the rat. Of course the sticky trap stuck to the grabber. I threw the trap, the grabber, and the giant rat into a bucket we keep to mop the floors. The sticky trap now, in addition to the rat and the grabber, stuck to the inside of the bucket. The whole mess shook with the struggle of the rat… every now and then a rat head would stick out the top and snap its rat teeth.

I gingerly hauled the whole mess out to the creek and threw it into the water and watched it move downstream and slowly sink in the moonlight.

It’s been a year and a half now and I haven’t seen sign of a single rat. We have new dogs now, they are more aggressive and larger and probably scare any new vermin off.

I am still haunted by nightmares of a giant skeletal ghost rat, the specter of the King, with a rusty bucket and a broken grabber stuck to his bones, shambling up from the creek, returning for his revenge.

I’m Going To Do Nanowrimo This Year

A deadline is, simply put, optimism in its most ass-kicking form.
—-Chris Baty, No Plot? No Problem! A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide To Writing A Novel In 30 Days

My android tablet and portable keyboard, I stopped my bike ride on the Bridge Park over the Trinity River to get some writing done.

I’ve seriously tried NanoWriMo three times – succeeding once. The two times I failed I wrote myself into a corner – my plot had nowhere to go. The one year I won, I picked a novel that couldn’t move into a corner – it was an old man in a beach house during a hurricane, with the water rising. He would think about his life in a series of reminiscences as death approached. That way, I could always find something to write.

The crazy thing is that on the last day of November, at about eleven PM, my Microsoft Word Document had me at about 50,007 words, so I uploaded the thing to the Nano website. However, its “official” word counter had me about thirty words short. No big deal, right?, I had forty five minutes to write thirty words.

It’s impossible to explain why, but those were the hardest thirty words I have ever bled out. I crossed 50K with three minutes to spare.

So this year…. I’m looking at my schedule trying to find a couple hours a day. One thing is this blog. For the duration I’ll post my daily word count, a photo from the past, and a paragraph of what I had written that day. I don’t want to upload the entire day’s work because it is a shitty first draft and nobody wants to read those. I should be able to carve out a paragraph of interest, though. A simple blog entry like that will save me some time every day that I can use for writing.

If anyone is in the Richardson/Dallas area and wants to set up a writing time, contact me at bill.chance57(at)gmail.com. I’m also thinking about setting up a Writing Marathon for at least one day (maybe the Farmer’s Market?), if that sounds interesting to anyone (if not, I can do it alone).

Yeah… that’s the ticket.

The Illusion of Risk

What are you buying when you get on a roller coaster? Not risk… but the illusion of risk. Being hurled to the edge of danger but knowing that you’ll never have to cross it. … Think of Alaska as one big theme park.”
—- Limbo (movie), John Sayles

This year’s New Orleans Writing Marathon was based at the wonderful, historic Beauregard Keyes house in the French Quarter. What a beautiful place – I recommend a visit and a tour.

I particularly enjoyed the artwork hanging on the walls. On our trip across the river to Algiers, we discussed a dark painting that I remembered. You couldn’t see much – only a snow capped mountain line and maybe a bit of an orange glow. When we returned for the evening, I took a photo of the painting with my phone and was surprised to see that there was more visible in the picture than there was in real life. There was a row of mountains and a small boat in the foreground that you could not see with the naked eye. I was particularly taken by that subtle orange glow behind some trees on the right hand side.

Enhanced photo of a painting in the hallway of the Beauregard-Keyes house, New Orleans

The staff from the Beuregard-Keyes House said that the painter and even the date of this particular canvas was unknown. I talked to the others that had been at Algiers with me and realized I had the wrong artwork – they had been discussing a nearby painting of Venice at night by George Loring Brown.

That didn’t matter to me, I still was fascinated by the dark line of snowcapped mountains and still water. The next day at a nearby breakfast place I decided to write a flash fiction based on the painting (changing the mountains into volcanic peaks for dramatic effect). Inspired by one of my favorite films, Limbo (see it at your risk, I loved the film but the others in the theater stood up and cursed the screen at the end – Christopher Null said, “I can forgive many things. But using some hackneyed, whacked-out, screwed-up non-ending on a movie is unforgivable. I walked a half-mile in the rain and sat through two hours of typical, plodding Sayles melodrama to get cheated by a complete and total copout finale.” – He is completely wrong, the movie ended the only way it could….), left the ending… somewhat unresolved.

Typed up from my handwritten notebook:

July 11, 10:30 Croisant D’Or, New Orleans

The darkness was so all-encompassing it felt as thick and liquid as the saltwater they dipped their paddles in. The four canoes and single small skiff moved in a rough line. Sam could almost see the skiff ahead – more of an impression than actual vision – rowed by the four on board – its sails useless in the dead calm night.

Beyond, the unseen moon hidden by an invisible line of cliffs to the right illuminated the snow capped upper slopes of the volcano. Its torn cone glowing in the sky – visible, but selfish with its cold light.

The paddles and oars clumped up and down the line, with an occasional weak splash. The men were all too exhausted with effort, fear, and lack of sleep to work efficiently and the sound of wood striking gunwale or skipping off the water at the wrong angle was a surprise to these skilled seagoing men – but they were so numb – the embarrassment passed.

They worked in silence. Sam wondered if the other men’s minds were silently exploding within – as his felt. The humidity thickened the darkness. The only breeze was provided by their paddling – the heat was broken every now and then by invisible lenses of cool air that fell down the slopes from the snowfields miles above. They passed through a bank of sour sulfur mist from the fumaroles along the shore. The paddling increased to move through that foulness as quickly as possible.

Sam saw something new – coming to life out of the ink. At first it was barely visible – a dark dull rust-colored patch ahead, quickly heating into a dark but distinct orange glow.

It was a bit to the right of the skiff, along the shoreline. Sam realized this was their destination, their camp. There was a line of dunes and behind them a swampy area before the land rose quickly up the mountain. They had pitched camp atop a series of grassy hummocks above the brown stagnant drainage, but still protected by the dunes from being seen from the sea.

At first the glow heartened Sam and the others as their rowing increased a little more in pace. They were almost back. Sam thought of a bit of a rest – of a stout drink around the campfire before they had to start the hard work of unloading the rifles and ammo boxes from the canoes and the skiff. Sam even thought beyond that, of crawling into his tent for sleep. That seemed the end, he couldn’t get his mind past the imaginary sensation of letting himself falling limp and snapping his eyes shut.

But as they approached at a frustrating pace, weighted down by all that steel until the tiny waves lapped at the gunwales, the orange glow began to grow and spread.

Soon, it was all-encompassing. They could even see yellow licks of flame flicking over the tops of the dunes. Long tongues of red light reached up the sides of the mountain above, moving and interspersed with long ominous purple moving shadows.

Shouts, curses, and desperate cries peppered up and down the line of little boats. Sam kept silent though, and continued to paddle with desperate hopeless effort. They all did, still moving straight into the growing conflagration.

They had nowhere else to go.

Sam thought, “I am mortal. We are all going to die… but when? Is it going to be tonight?”

No One Had Responded To Its Message

“On the prow of the wagon, in an attempt to attract business among the Quarterites, Ignatius taped a sheet of Big Chief paper on which he had printed in crayon: TWELVE INCHES (12) OF PARADISE. So far no one had responded to its message.”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Saint Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans

I’m getting packed, getting ready to drive to New Orleans for a week of this year’s Writing Marathon.