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Month: May, 2017

The factor of two

I was watching a dud of a movie last night on Netflix starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, and was reminded how much chemistry this real-life off-screen couple had on screen. Despite the poor script these two made every scene they were in something to enjoy. The way he touched her neck, the way she tried to resist yet was drawn closer and closer, all the while both of them speaking their lines as if in a trance, yet perfectly executed. It was magical. I love that these two stayed together until the end, had children, created charities and produced such a vast body of work. It’s totally inspiring. They’re one of my favorite couples from the days of Hollywood’s glitz and glamour. Both of them seemed far too down to earth to be movie stars, and yet it’s clear to see the star appeal.

Here is an early clip of them taking a try in the mystery seat on the show “What’s My Line?” It’s clear to see how much they love each other here.

 

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From The Starlights, free today.

“What happened to your face, Keith?”

“Oh, I—I got in a fight.”

“Another one?”

“Yeah, another one. Sally’s okay.”

“Do you want a ride?”

Do I want a ride? It’s the question of my life, like asking if I want eternal youth or a million dollars. Do I want to get in a car with the other woman I love, or do I say no, because no is the right thing to do, even though it will shove a blade into my heart so big I’ll never recover?

“Why didn’t you call me this week?” I ask. “You could have called. Dialed my number. Looked me up in the Yellow Pages. Once. Not twice or three times or any amount of times, just once. All I wanted was to hear the sound of your fucking voice, just once.”

“Ah, Keith, baby.”

“Don’t call me baby. I ain’t your baby.”

“I couldn’t call, because Sasha came home. I thought you understood.”

I start walking and she’s rolling alongside. “I didn’t know.”

“Well now you do. Are you really that mad at me?”

I am. I don’t love her. I never really loved her. I just wanted her so bad.

I was gonna do the tongue thing. She didn’t even give me the chance.

 

When your best friend is a zombie

The Starlights is a bromance and a romance . . . and a romance. You’ll understand once you read the book, which is currently free until Friday. I know writers aren’t supposed to say they love their own stuff, but I love this book. Love, love, love. Keith’s best friend attempts suicide, and if that isn’t enough he has to deal with college applications, a needy girlfriend, and that needy girlfriend’s needy mother–sexy Suzanne. Swirling around all of this is his love of the band Rush, which is the only thing he should be concentrating on, IMO.

But first it’s a bromance.

 

From The Starlights:

I’m outside the front apartment entrance after school, and after taking that test, when Mark’s dad pulls up in an old station wagon. Mark leaves the car, walks over the curb and hits me in the arm. He doesn’t say thanks for saving my life, or glad to see you, or anything like that, but I know that’s what he means with the slug. His hair is wet, like he just washed it, and he doesn’t smell like weed. He smells like Lifeguard.

I hand him the key and we go inside into the hall.

“Is your dad going to sit out there the whole time?”

“Yeah. He’s listening to a game.”

“How much time do you have?”

“He said ten minutes, but I can stretch it to more and he won’t care.” We’re at his door and he sticks in the key and twists the lock. Booger comes running. Mark grabs her and looks around. I feel weird about cleaning the place, but maybe he likes it. I can’t tell. He turns on a few lights and feeds Booger her Kal Kan and then walks around grabbing stuff and shoving it in his jacket pockets. Loose change, chapstick, a comb, a paperback, he’s shoving it all in. He sees the unfiltered Marlboros and looks at me.

“I smoked all yours.”

“These are tough shit, man, but I’ll have one.” He lights up. He opens a drawer in the coffee table that I never knew existed before and slides his hand in. Out comes a little baggie. He shoves that in his jacket too.

“I told Birdie you wanted to hang out.”

“What she’d say?”

“She said . . .” I hate saying it. I’m really gonna give it to that chick next time I see her. She wasn’t the one to find Mark dying in the next room with an empty bottle of pills nearby. She wasn’t the one to call the cops and drag him into the hall. She didn’t have to feed his cat, or see him stuck with tubes and peeing in a bag. She doesn’t know shit about anything. “She said she’s got a boyfriend.” And now I really hate her because she’s forcing me to lie to my best friend.

Mark takes a puff and shrugs. “Those never bothered me. I’ll win her over, wait and see.”

“Man, why do you want to see her anyway?”

“I don’t know. I just like that name. It’s a cool name.”

“But she’s a bitch.”

“Most chicks are.” Mark bends down to grab Booger and gives her a million kisses on her furry neck. “I missed this fucking cat so much.

“So, where’s this girl of yours? Didn’t she come over?”

“Not today. I had to make up a test.”

“Well, you’d better hurry ‘cause I’m back next week. Is she close?”

“Does she live close?”

“No, is she close? Close to doing it?”

“I don’t know, maybe. How do you tell?”

“They can’t stop touching you, that’s how you tell.”

I think of Sally’s hand under the table at school. “She might be close.”

“She must not be if you don’t know. Hold off for a while, make her want you real bad.”

“Man, I can’t hold off. I’ve held off for two years already.”

“Hold off. I’m serious. Give her the cold shoulder a day or two and see what happens. She’ll come running.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.”

“But you just told me to hurry ‘cause you’ll be back next week.”

“I’ll lend you the place if you need. I’m just trying to help out.”

“All right. Cold shoulder. Shit.”

Mark walks over and looks through the draperies. “Still listening to that game.” He flips on the TV and sits down to watch. “They’re all over me at home. Asking about what I’ll do with my life, where I’m headed. I’m going fucking insane. I just wish they’d shut up and let me finish my week without all the hassle.”

I hesitate before sitting down. It’s hard to pretend what happened didn’t happen. We’re never going to talk about it straight on, but it happened.

“What’s Birdie’s last name?” he asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Well ask tomorrow and then give me a call. I’ll take it from there.”

I change the topic. All this talk about Birdie is making me nauseous. She’ll take Mark, and she’ll wreck him, like a car into a tree. And then she’ll leave. I can’t let it happen. “I learned a new song. A Queen song.”

“Great.”

“I might try to write one tonight.”

“Go for it.”

“Do you think we could still be The Starlights? I got a new guitar.”

“Man, you did?”

“Yeah, to replace the old one. So that means we can still be a band.” I grab a smoke, light up, and pretend not to feel the burn.

Mark shakes his head a lot. “Just you and me? Man, I don’t know. That’s not much of a band.”

“But you said it was a good idea.”

“That was before.”

“Before what?”

“Before I found out life sucked and I was a loser.”

“Who told you that?”

“Oh nobody.”

We both shut up to watch some afternoon game show. A car horn blasts outside. Mark checks his watch. “I guess he’s had it.” He grabs another smoke. Leans back. “What a fuckin’ mess.” He doesn’t say he’s sorry he did it, or that he’s glad to be alive.

“Are you sure I should wait?” I ask.

“Wait for what?”

“With Sally—what if she’s ready now?” I can’t keep smoking the unfiltered. My lungs are fire. I crush it out in the ashtray on top of all those nudie magazines.

“She ain’t. You’d know, and if you don’t know, she ain’t. Give her time. Really psyche her out.”

“Okay.”

He finishes that smoke and gives Booger a million kisses. We go outside and I lean up against the apartment’s concrete entrance while he gets in his dad’s car and drives off. I don’t know why I feel lonelier now after seeing him, but I do.

 

Free Novel Today

A voyeuristic view of life inside a small American town, one household at a time. Free today. Amazon.

Woodsocketusanew

 

The Mickey Mantle

Baseball season is upon us so I felt it appropriate to post this snippet today. I remember well my brother playing baseball May through August, and me, sitting in the stands with my mother who wore a bright yellow t-shirt reading: I’M POOR AND LIVE IN JOHNSON COUNTY. An in-joke, if you know how affluent our zip code happens to be.  And us, scrapping every week, barely making it on government cheese and powdered milk. But alas, there’s always baseball to carry one away from life’s little miseries. This story, from a book of interconnected tales amid a fictional Midwestern town, concerns two brothers, Saul and Pete. Saul is angsty and wants to escape before anyone else makes a grab for his dignity, and Pete, older and wiser, is helplessly tied to the surroundings via Vera, an amazonian sex-starved pistol wielding girlfriend. A missing Mickey Mantle card might be the ticket away from all this chaos, but who’s willing to sell the remnants of their soul to get it?

From ‘Woodsocket, U.S.A.’ Free for download for the next two days. As always , thanks for reading!

Woodsocketusanew

 

The Mickey Mantle

 

“Bases are loaded,” Saul announced, loaf of French bread raised to an angle. “I’m gonna hit this sucker into the meat department and have myself a home run. You got that, Pete?”

Pete shook his head real slow. He drew his arm back for the pitch then spun forward, releasing a tangerine bullet. Saul’s eyes locked onto the citrus. He took a swing and stumbled. The two of them watched it fly over their heads in a perfect arch. It could get real quiet in the IGA at eight a.m.

In the next aisle a painful cry rang out.

Pete and Saul ran to see.

Mrs. Kuhn stood in a green moo-moo rubbing a hand at the back of her neck.

“You all right, Mrs. Kuhn?” Saul was trying so hard not to laugh.

“I don’t actually know. Something hit me. Out of nowhere. I—I was just reachin’ for a can of tuna.”

There was a red mark the size of a baseball on her neck, and a juicy tangerine at her feet. Saul watched Pete’s boot tip punt the thing so it disappeared under a nearby shelf. “Maybe something fell off a row here, Mrs. Kuhn. You should be more careful.” Pete grabbed some Fish of the Sea and put it in her cart. “Tell the girls up front that this is free, okay?”

Her eyes darted back and forth between the two brothers. “That’s nice of you. How you two boys doing? Your father is sorely missed in this town.”

Pete got real shy when folks mentioned Dad. Saul just felt like smashing stuff.

“We’re just fine, Mrs. Kuhn. Don’t forget to tell ‘em it’s free.” Pete shooed her off and the two of them stood in the aisle for a moment.

Saul hauled up and hit his older brother in the shoulder. “You think we can go to the Pit Stop tonight instead of eating that hamburger you left in the fridge?”

“No. It’s goin’ rotten and we gotta use it up. We can go to the Pit some other time. I don’t wanna be hanging out there anyway, not with Vera coming around with that pistol of hers. She didn’t take so well to me and her breaking up the other night.”

“Well, maybe I’ll go and you can stay home.” Saul really wanted to go to the Pit Stop. He didn’t enjoy hanging around the house every night watching the boob tube. Living with your brother was supposed to be fun, not like being married.

“Go on then, if you dare, but she said she might take aim at you as well. She’s plenty pissed.”

Saul started to rethink his plans. Vera, when vengeful, would torture a man until he’d beg for a kick to the crotch, just for mercy. Just then he heard a shuffle coming from the next aisle. Sharon Wilke turned the corner in heavy white sneakers and pants too tight for someone to be wearing with a rear end like hers. Sharon was the direct opposite of someone like Vera, and was as soft and malleable as veal. He loved to tease her.

“Wallomp, wallomp,” Saul chanted.

She stopped in place and turned around real slow. She raised a nervous hand to her neck. “Good morning, Saulie.”

“You’re too fat for those pants. I can see your underwear.”

Her bottom lip trembled. Saul pretended not to see the starving way she looked at him in his jeans. He threw a fist into his other palm, like an invisible mitt was there. “Don’t ya got anything insulting to say back to me today, huh Sharon?”

She sniffed a second, then threw a hip out and reached inside her shirt. “Yeah. Look what I got, a Willie Mays. A real, honest Willie Mays. Got it in the mail yesterday. Pretty, ain’t it?”

“Ah hell, everybody’s got a stupid Mays. Show me a Mickey Mantle and I’ll get excited.”

“Maybe I have one of those too. Maybe there’s one in my house right now, you never know.”

“I’ll bet there ain’t.” Then he called her something terrible. The worst word of all.

Punt.

She looked about to cry. “Well, there might be.”

“Might or is?” He was a little worried she might get him fired for using a word like that, but he was almost past caring. She hadn’t earned that manager job, she’d been born into it just because her uncle owned the store.

She stuffed Willie Mays back into her bra and stopped pouting. “You’re right. I don’t have a Mantle. I was just bullshitting you for fun and you almost fell for it. Guess I’d better go open those front registers.” She shuffled off, shoes leaving a squeak with every step.

Saul emptied two boxes of legumes before he said anything to Pete. “I bet she doesn’t have it.”

“Bet you’re right.”

“‘Cause if she did, she’d be waving it in my face.”

“Mmhmm.” Pete was probably thinking about the hamburgers and how he could dress them up with red onions, Vidalias, like they’d put out the day before.

“But if she does have a Mantle, why, I might go have a look in her house just to see. What do you think?”

Pete shifted his legs. “I think you’re crazy.”

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