Follow by Email

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Benediction (short post)

Okay, so it's the closing hours of... well everything.  The Mayans, who couldn't predict their end at the hands of the Conquistadors, foretold that the world will end sometime in the next 24 hours.  Of course, this is nonsense, but let's assume for a second that they're right, and all my efforts to save the world (basically drinking and partying) fail.  I'm not worried about how it'll happen, or what it'll be like.  I'm worried about dying and not getting to say what I have to say.  The most important thing I'll ever say, ever again.

I love you.

And you.  You too, over there in the back.  All of you.  Even you, right there.  All the family, the friends I've had, the loves, the haters, the critics and the supporters.  I love each and every last one of you.  More than any of you can possibly realize.  The experience of knowing you, of being in the presence of your words and emotions, good and bad, has shaped me into who I am and who I've tried to be.  Even if I haven't spoken to you in years, or we just talked yesterday.

I'm going to do everything I can to save us (read: party and drink).  In the event I'm not successful, you should know this.  And if I am successful...

Th world as we know it should end.  The hatred should be replaced with love.  The apathy should be exchanged for compassion.  Division should be countered by unity.  There's more that we have in common than we have different.  Remember that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a world to save.

Commercialized Christmas Values

The other night while I was getting a patient ready for bed, she flipped the channel on the TV to one of those Hallmark Movie Channel Christmas flicks.  You know the ones, the overly sappy love story with the slightly religious feel-good message about change, growth and the meaning of the holiday and life in general.  Secretly, I kinda like 'em.  Laugh if you want, just keep in mind that I'm likely bigger than you.

Anyway, in this movie there's this horrible shrew of a woman who rails against the commercialization of Christmas, saying how much better she is and her family is than that, how they spend Christmas on missions in Mexico or Botswana, or some other poor nation doing good deeds, and how dare this school have her daughter join a choir and sing songs.  Christmas is about the love of Christ, she said.  It was a particularly annoying diatribe that did what it was probably supposed to do.

While watching this, the brain/mouth filter switches off and I launch into my own speech about the commercialization of Christmas.  The fact is, people like stuff. Especially in wrapping paper.  There's the act of unwrapping stuff which makes people feel good and makes people feel like the person that went through all the trouble of putting it together really cared.  Christmas is supposed to be about love, about togetherness, about letting the people around you know how invaluable they are to you, regardless of your religious affiliation.  That is why we give the gifts, why we sing the songs and roast the chestnuts and drink the eggnog.  Well, that and because eggnog is awesome.

I know that the original intent is to celebrate the birth of Christ, but when did they have pine trees in the desert?  I think we should embrace the spirit of what Christmas has become, where we open stuff in pretty paper from people who took the time and care and effort to wrap it.  Where we eat terrible fruitcake, and gingerbread cookies because they make us feel good and connected to the people around us.  Where we stuff our faces and tell good stories with family and friends that we may or may not see for another year  Where for one day, and by extension the six week stretch that precedes it, we're not so focused on our differences, but our commonalities.

And then, as I finished the set-up on my patient, I realized I said this out loud.  She looks at me and smiles, and says "You should write that down."

Embrace your family.  Your friends.  Have a drink.  Smile, laugh and sing songs.  Enjoy shredding that wrapping paper.  It is one of the few pure joys we have.  Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Festivus to us all!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Little Lights

This is going to be a long one.

This past Friday, a terrible thing happened, and 20 little lights were extinguished, along with 6 who would guide them.  A school got shot up.  As I write those words, those words that I've been avoiding writing for several  days, I still get a little choked up.  I struggle with the notion that it happened, and I can't help but think of how this horror could have been prevented.  I still am rather disgusted.  I still am angry.  This should not have happened.    And yet...

This event, this horrible happenstance, opens the door for certain conversations that we have long avoided about the realities of our own culture.  The absence  of those 20 little lights shine a beacon on what's tragically wrong with us in oh so many ways.  If there's any good at all to be taken from this, it's that certain accepted paradigms about us as a people are going to be taken to task, for better or for worse.  Our gun culture, unique in the world for it's stubborn persistence and its effectiveness in killing innocent people, will be looked at.  Our media ideals, where we have more and more eschewed news for entertainment, will be looked at.  Our views on mental illness will be looked at.

The debate going on immediately, and rightfully so, is about gun control.  The 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms for all US citizens. As an interesting sidebar, the 3rd Amendment gives us the right to not have soldiers quartered in our homes.  That part is important because at the time it was written, British troops had the unfortunate tendency to camp out in the homes of random citizens under orders from the crown, with the citizens of the country unable to do anything about it.  In order to prevent that from happening again, the founding fathers put into legislation this right for all Americans to be able to refuse quartering by force if necessary, and of course, allowing for armed revolt if necessary.  No invading soldiers in the home.  This little bit of history is constantly glossed over in gun control conversations that involve the 2nd Amendment because times have changed.  For starters, the US military is the elite of the world, largest in numbers and most effective in killing power, a development the founding fathers surely could not have envisioned.  We're not shooting soldiers, not without swift, immediate, and likely final reprisal.  Secondly, the founding fathers could never dream of the destructive killing power of the guns we have today.  Single shot smoothbore weapons were the order of the day, musket balls and the like.  Chambered weapons were still a good eighty years away, as were guns that you could wield with one hand. I believe that if those great minds who wrote the Constitution were alive today, they would make a case to clarify and adjust the amendment for today's time.  After all, who really needs a scoped, automatic, military-grade rifle to hunt?

The bespectacled gentleman to the left is Joe Scarborough, MSNBC host and former four term Republican Senator.  He was an ardent defender of the right to bear arms.  After last Friday's massacre, he changed his mind.  (Watch the video. the speech is actually quite moving.)  Our culture regarding guns employs the fantasy of one man, alone, defending his land and his family.  Our firearm based entertainment employs this belief.  What they fail to realize is the reality: that putting a gun in the hand of an average, untrained, and scared civilian is going to get him/her and others killed.  Movies purport the notion that all shots fired find their target, and when they do, death (and usually justice) is quick, clean and swift.  Reality check: it doesn't work that way.  Famously in the early 2000's, 6 trained NYPD officers fired 41 shots at a suspect and only managed to hit him 8 times.  Untrained, frightened people with guns would muster a far inferior hit rate.  The other part of our gun culture that needs to be addressed is ease of access.  In many states, firearms are easier to obtain than a Driver's License.  For  Driver's License, you have to demonstrate physical ability and proficiency in operating a vehicle, and in some cases you can only attempt to show that proficiency after logging extensive hours from approved trainers.  You also have to show proficiency in each vehicle you intend to drive-- separate licenses for trucks, boats, motorcycles, and cars.  To obtain a gun in most states, all you need is a Driver's License and no criminal record.  In some states, the criminal record thing is negotiable.  Like with cars, just being here shouldn't automatically allow you access to a projectile weapon.

There is a thought process of late that says that teachers, principals and school personnel should be armed. Really?  Is that the kind of world you want to raise your kids in, that the teacher is strapped in a school?

Shortly after the shooting, a response attributed to Morgan Freeman was circulated via social media:


You want to know why. This may sound cynical, but here's why.
It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single *victim* of Columbine? Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way. Why a grade school? Why children? Because he'll be remembered as a horrible monster, instead of a sad nobody.
CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up", this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another. Then they post a video interview of third-graders for all the details of what they saw and heard while the shootings were happening. Fox News has plastered the killer's face on all their reports for hours. Any articles or news stories yet that focus on the victims and ignore the killer's identity? None that I've seen yet. Because they don't sell. So congratulations, sensationalist media, you've just lit the fire for someone to top this and knock off a day care center or a maternity ward next.
You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news.

It, of course, came out after the fact that he didn't say it, but whoever did has a point.  We glorify the shooters, the Dylan Klebolds and Jared Loughners, the Adam Lanzas and the Trench Coat Mafias.  We may not glorify their actions, but we make celebrities of them, independent of the victims.  Their suicides are massively played up, and if they're brought to justice, their trials are far from subdued.  In the effort to make their deeds infamous, we make these people-- ultimately, these criminals -- famous.  So why wouldn't a troubled person-- whose personal troubles make right and wrong muddy in favor of being noticed-- shoot up a school?  Or a movie theatre?  Or a hospital?  Or a Congresswoman's campaign stop?  The media coverage will get them noticed.  Over the last 30 years, news has gone from informative to sensationalist.  We went from informing on the events of the day, to an invasively voyeuristic entertainment system that focuses on the trivialities of life for famous people.  This is the news.  It's not supposed to be entertaining, it's not supposed to be sold.  Its purpose is to inform the public conversation.  No bias, no context, just information.

Much is being made of Adam Lanza's mental problems as the story develops, specifically his Asperger's syndrome.  And once that tidbit of information came out, there was almost a public sigh of relief, like "Oh, whew, okay.  He's crazy, he had Asperger's, so that's why it happened."  What this shows is a tragic ignorance about mental illness, and that ignorance comes from avoiding what it means to be mentally ill.  Asperger's does not necessarily make people prone to violence.  It's a social disorder, meaning the way one interacts with other people is somewhat skewed by normal standards.  Conversely, people with Asperger's tend to show extreme interest and proficiency in specific tasks and subjects.  We usually observe high levels of intelligence in people with these types of social disorder.

So what now?  Obviously there was something wrong with the kid.  The answer to that is that we may never know what exactly was going through his head in the days leading up to last Friday.  Maybe that's the point.  Working in healthcare, I've noticed that mental illness is used as a catch-all for a lot of things that aren't so bad.  I'm not saying that Clinical Depression or Bi-Polar Disorder don't exist.  I'm saying that the large majority of people who claim it don't have it.  Mental illnesses have been for a very long time over-diagnosed, over-medicated, and under-treated.  The response to depression is to give brain altering chemicals.  Bi-Polar disorder treatment involves mood-stabilizing medication.  ADHD sufferers get Speed.  But how many of these people actually have these disorders?  There's nothing you can see in a CAT scan that shows depression, or bi-polar, or whatever.  Again, this is not to discount the people who suffer from these illnesses.  I've seen the people who do, and these meds are life-saving.

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You're watching TV when a pharmaceutical ad comes on. "Do you feel down?  Less energetic?  Like you don't want to get out of bed?" 

You think,  "yeah, sometimes."  

"Then ask your doctor about Pill X!"

For most of us it ends there, but then there are the people who do have a talk with their doctor and do get a sample of Pill X, which after using they feel amazing, creating a false set of symptoms they must continually treat.  Think about that for a moment.

These are a sample of the conversations that we will be having as a people over the next few weeks and months as we figure out what happened and and how it could have been averted.  Not all of it is useful, or pointed in the right direction, but all of them are conversations we need to discuss.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving.

This has been a weird month.  I'm personally struggling with a way to put it all into perspective.  The thing that keeps popping back into my head is as much as I love my hometown -- and I LOVE my hometown -- for the very first time in my life, I was glad that I didn't live there.


Hurricane Sandy gut-punched New York and New Jersey something terrible.  We've all seen the news.  20 foot storm surges, insane winds, fire.  End of the world type stuff.  From the hundreds of friends I still have back east I've heard all kinds of things, from the best case (everyone's fine, no damage) to the worst (lost everything including someone I care about).  Staten Island and Breezy Point are nearly unrecognizable in pictures, looking very much like a very cold, war-torn, Third World country.  I had initially wanted to recount all the stories I had heard regarding the hurricane, but the fact is that they were numerous, and since the majority of my friends still live there, there's no sense in writing about it from the outside.  It seems disrespectful.  The resiliency of my hometown was never in question.  We're tough, and strong, quick to our feet and ready to charge again.

In this weird month, we've also seen the first ethnic minority leader of a major world power become the first ethnic minority re-elected leader of a major world power.  The people who disagree with many of the things this man believes in terms of how a government should be run have had their heads explode over this fact.  We've heard all manner of reasons why it happened, from the offer of "free stuff" to voter fraud, to a miscount in the tally.  We've heard all manner of numerical commentary, from the 1%, to the 99%, to the 47%.  The last 18 days could be the subject of their own rant, actually.  The very peaceful and diplomatic point is that, no matter your politics, for the next four years this man represents you.  Revel in his successes.  Take him to task for his failures.  Or move to friggin' Mexico for all I care.  Respect the office.

This has been a very strange month, indeed, on very many levels.  And the crazy thing is really that it still isn't quite over.  So as we roll into the Thanksgiving holiday, I implore everyone, while they enjoy the turkey and football, appreciate what you have.  Appreciate who you have.  Enjoy the rest of the strangest month of many of our lives.  Be safe.

**I do apologize for the randomness of this post.  But this has been a weird November.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Preview: The Favorite

Ok, here's a preview of the prologue and the first chapter of my upcoming novel, "The Favorite."




Prologue



Last night…


     The tapping of the smooth silver ballpoint pen against the notepad sounded very much like a metronome gone out of control.  Crumpled balls of paper littered the handsome wooden desk like a graveyard of bad ideas as the thinning notepad lay blank before him.  The paper’s watermark – a green-tinged lion’s head logo – stared mockingly at him, daring him to try again to write something poignant.  Or even just intelligent.  In fact, at this point, the lion would even have settled for something merely coherent.
     He reached for the tiny bottle of vodka – airplane-sized, from the mini-bar - that he had been sipping.  He upended it, emptying the last of the clear, caustic liquid down his throat.  He felt his face flush as the liquor burned a path into his stomach.  He closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of drifting off to drunkenness.
     When his mouth and throat cooled he reopened his eyes.  The lion still looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin this manifesto, this great work that would make her understand why.  He tentatively put the pen to paper and was trying to decide the letter’s opening line.
     To whom it may concern…
     He had barely formed the final “n” when he tore the page from its pad.  To whom it may concern, he thought.  How silly.
     He tossed the balled up sheet of paper to the side and started again, dating the top of the page.  He went over in his mind how letters were supposed to start, with Dear Someone, or Dearest Whomever.  He wrote: I don’t even know your name.
     He smiled as he finished writing that one line.  He cracked open the miniature bottle of premium vodka queued up next to him, sucked it down and added the empty to the paper graveyard.  He was drunker than he had been in a long time, but at least the words were flowing.
     My name is Michael Dane.  I’m your father.  A little Darth Vader-esque, he thought, but it worked.  If you’re reading this then I’m dead.  He paused a moment after he wrote that; the finality of those words made his stomach gurgle.  Doubt, nervousness and fear crept into his mind, all at once, and all for the first time since this whole thing started.  He wondered if this whole deal was such a good idea after all.
     Drunkenness helped him rediscover his resolve.  He had no choice after all.  He wrote: And of course you’re reading this, because I know I’m going to die.







Chapter One



     The lights in the locker room hummed and flickered above Michael Dane’s head as the last of the gauze was taped tightly to his hands.  He looked up and held his breath for a moment as he punched the palms of his hands, exhaling when the fluorescent rods snapped back on full strength, buzzing as if a fly were trapped inside.  Soon after, they flickered again, and something in his stomach danced to the rhythm of the lights.  When fully lit, the locker room was cream-colored brick from the ground up to about three feet, with drywall painted an off-white color– beige, or maybe eggshell- going up to the ceiling.  Michael sat on an elevated table in the center of the room, a small metal bowl with gauze, tape and scissors next to him.  The table was brown leather and heavily padded, like the one he saw in his doctor’s office.  The lights dimmed again, freezing Michael’s breath. He exhaled only when they came back on.
     “Why don’t they do something about that?” he said, testing the wrist support of the gauze.  “It’s annoying.”
     The pot-bellied black man putting the tape on Michael’s hands stood from the stool in front of the table.  “Perfect,” he said.  “Let’s get the gloves.”  He hustled over to the locker on the other side of the room and pulled out a pair of black boxing gloves with “DANE” printed on the wrists in gold block letters.
     Michael took another deep breath to try to stop the salsa dancing girls in his stomach as the gloves were slid onto his hands.  “This is it, Dutch,” he said to the fat man as the gloves were tied up.  “Showtime.”  He hopped off the table and began to loosen up, rolling his head from side to side, and finally shadowboxing his way toward the wall, bobbing, weaving, and striking his imaginary opponent.
     Dutch quickly glanced at the clock on the wall behind Dane.  “Easy, killer,” he said with a laugh.  “Don’t tire yourself out.  We still got at least 10 minutes.  Keep your shorts on.”  Michael laughed too and stopped shadowboxing.  The dancing in his stomach changed from salsa to a waltz.  Dutch tightened the laces on the gloves and glanced up at his fighter.  “God damn it,” he said.  “I can’t believe we’re finally here.  Main event, title fight.  It’s been a long time coming.”
“Relax,” Michael said.  “Everything’s going to be fine.”
     “Be nice to get out there and get it over with.  I’m too old for this stress.”
     Michael smiled quickly from the corner of his mouth.  “Stop worrying,” he said.  “You trained me, didn’t you?  Haven’t we been working to get right here, right now since I was like 12?  I’m ready, Dutch, don’t stress it.  I got a job to do.”  Dane flexed his hands through the tape and took a deep breath. Tension rippled through his arms as every muscle bulged and relaxed in succession. “You’re making me nervous.”
“You should be.  Nervous is good.  It keeps you focused, careful, and on your feet.”  Dutch wrapped duct tape around Michael’s gloves at the wrists.  “You ready?”
Michael nodded and bounced on the balls of his feet.  “Born ready,” he said as he led the way toward the ring, shadowboxing his way out the door.  Dutch rolled his eyes at the statement and followed his fighter out.

**********

One by one, people were funneled into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.  The crowd grew steadily to capacity, and the people coming in late were hard pressed to make it to their seats.  It was only a few minutes before the main event was scheduled to start: the heavily-favored IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion Quin Cortez vs. the underdog, but well-regarded Michael Dane for 12 rounds.  The excitement was palpable as the crowd noise started to sound like boiling spaghetti.  Cortez, a lean, chiseled Dominican with a devastating right hook, had mowed down everything in his path to this point and his fights had been so short lately that his pay-per-view bouts were offered by the round.  Dane, on the other hand, was a veteran who insiders felt never quite reached his potential.  He usually finished fights with a powerful overhand right and was undefeated since his release from prison, but many felt had lost his best years while incarcerated for a gun violation.
The rest of the card had just been a warm-up for this, but the early comers and die-hards wouldn’t deny themselves an undercard fight, especially those who had paid for whole night.  The fights themselves were exciting enough.  One featured a couple of middleweights from Mexico no one had ever heard of that went eight rounds before one of them was dropped by a surprise right hook.  Another had a has-been from Miami, Florida fight a never-was from Vancouver, British Columbia.  That fight went the distance and ended in a draw; both fighters were bruised and bloody afterwards and the crowd showed its appreciation.  They were only filler though, appetizers for Dane vs. Cortez.  The past few weeks, Cortez and Dane sniped at each other in the press, and officials had to separate them at the previous night’s weigh-in was stopped just before fireworks really started.  The entire crowd was chomping at the bit for this to finally get underway. 
     A slender, dark-skinned man in a white suit– a three-piece he wore with a charcoal gray shirt and red tie and shiny white leather shoes- sat cross-legged in the front of one of the reserved luxury skyboxes, above the press boxes and high above the crowd with a lit cigar firmly cued between his first two fingers.  He checked his gleaming platinum watch impatiently as he took a deep drag on the cigar.  A thin, young usher, no more than 20 years old, walked past him, leading a pair of middle-aged white men to the seats behind him.  The kid seated the two men and came back to the well-dressed man.  “Sir,” he said, clearing his throat, “you can’t smoke that in here.”
     The well-dressed man exhaled thick gray smoke from his nose.  “Pardon me, son?” he said, fixing his lazy, but somehow intimidating stare on the usher.  “I didn’t catch that.”
     The usher’s hands fidgeted a bit.  “There’s no smoking in here,” he said, trying to sound firm, but instead cracking his voice.  “You’re going to have to put that out.”
     The well-dressed man reared back and let out a sound halfway between smoker’s hack and laughter.  “You can’t be serious,” he said, letting the cigar hang from the corner of his mouth.  He took another drag and blew out a ring of smoke.  “You do know who I am, right?”
     The usher nervously pointed to the NO SMOKING UNDER PENALTY OF LAW sign posted directly above them.  “I’m sorry,” he said, sheepishly.  “I really am going to have to ask you to put that out.”
     The well-dressed man turned his head and stared into the eyes of the usher as darted everywhere to avert the gaze.  The man sucked in a couple of quick puffs as he reached inside his coat pocket.  The usher flinched a bit and held his breath.  When the man pulled out a silvery, rectangular cigar case, the usher breathed a deep sigh of relief.
     The well-dressed man tapped the ash on the floor. W ith a low hiss, he extinguished the cigar against the case.  “Satisfied?” he said.
     “I’m sorry, Mr. Alexander,” the usher said.  “Just doing my job.”
     “You’re welcome,” the well-dressed man said under his breath as the usher scurried off.  Once the kid was out of sight, he pulled another cigar from the case.
     “Hope you have better control of your fighter than you do your event, Dante.”  The man in white looked around for the source of this statement and saw a Puerto Rican man in a black suit sitting behind him, smiling from ear to ear.  Dante reached into his jacket pocket for his lighter with his left hand, and flipped the Puerto Rican man off with his right.
     “Trust me, Castillo,” he said, lighting the cigar and taking a quick drag.  “Everything’s set.  Just remember your end of the deal.”
     Castillo smiled and leaned back in his seat.  “Don’t worry about that.  I’ll deliver when you deliver.”
     “Then shut the hell up,” Dante said, turning his attention toward the ring.  “It’s about to start.”

**********

In the hallway leading to the ring, Michael Dane bounced on the balls of his feet, pounding his gloves together as Dutch paced in front of the closed door. An official from the Athletics Commission inspected Michael’s gloves for anything illegal.  When he was satisfied, he signed the duct tape and waved them through.
     Security guards in bright yellow blazers opened the door from the inside of the arena and motioned them in.  Blinding white spotlights shone directly on the chiseled light-skinned black man with the shaved head and his portly, broad-shouldered, darker trainer.  The roar of the crowd and the thumping bass line of Busta Rhymes’ “We Could Take It Outside” poured through the open door as if being sucked out by a vacuum.  Dutch put his hands on Michael’s shoulders and pushed him out.
     “It’s showtime,” he said again as he walked behind his protégé.
     Michael stalked toward the ring, close to the fans, as always, so they could touch him.  He rolled his neck from side to side as he approached the ring.  Flash bulbs and spotlights blinded him momentarily and every time his eyes adjusted, another would go off.  Dutch walked behind him, keeping his hands on Michael’s shoulders as they made their way through the crowd.  They looked up at the giant video screen suspended above the ring and saw their high-definition reflection, 20 times life size.  Michael climbed the ring steps at his corner, stepped between the ropes and raised a fist in the air.  After Dutch took off his robe, Michael climbed the ropes in the corner, rubbed the panther’s paw tattoo on his chest and pointed out to the crowd.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review: Amberville





Amberville, part 3 of Tim Davys' Mollisan Town Quartet, is a slightly offbeat, mildly
disturbing, thought-provoking, entertaining crime novel.  It touches on the nature of life and
death, mistaken identity, law and order, and good and evil, all viewed through the
perspective of stuffed animals.

Yes, you read that right.  Stuffed animals.  Mollisan Town is populated with stuffed
animals of varying moral alignments, from the holy penguin Archdeacon Odenkirk to the
malicious gangster Nicholas Dove.

Eric Bear, former mob enforcer, now a successful ad exec and devoted husband, is asked
to do a favor for his former employer, the aforementioned Nicholas Dove: locate the
Death List -- a roster of all the stuffed animals slated to die on a particular day --
and remove his name from it, or suffer the death of his beloved Emma Rabbit.  The
problem is no one knows if the Death List actually even exists, much less where it is or
how to remove a name.  Eric assembles his old crew from the old days -- the hulking yet
sweet Tom-Tom Crow, the effete Sam Gazelle, and the dispassionate Snake Marek -- and
the foursome search Mollisan Town high and low for leads on this Death List.  Along the
way, we see interludes about the characters' seedy past, especially one concerning a
case of mistaken identity.

Amberville is shockingly adult, in stark contrast to the idea of the characters being
stuffed toys.  There's drinking, smoking, drug use, and sex all over this book, and on
several occasions you forget you're reading a book about stuffed animals.  It is
imaginative and wildly fun, and I honestly can't help but to recommend it.

8 out of 10.

Friday, October 26, 2012

With Regards to Aretha Franklin...

There has been a disturbing trend in this country for the last four years, and that trend is bubbling over in the weeks before the election.

Earlier this week, Ann Coulter praised Mitt Romney for being "kind and gentle to the retard" at the debate.  The retard being  the President of the United States.  Donald Trump a few days later issued a "prove your citizenship" $5 million challenge.

Am I the only one that sees this?

Regardless of your politics, this is the LEADER OF THE FREE WORLD we're talking about here, and when is it ever okay to so openly disrespect him?   The POTUS is our representative on the global stage, and the vehement public disrespect of the man makes us as citizens look like morons.  It wasn't okay with George W. Bush -- a man who I've said none too kind things about in private company -- and it definitely is not okay now.

Ann Coulter used a derisive slur aimed at our leader.  It was meant in that tense.  It's offensive and insensitive and needed to be put on blast.  I'm so very glad that one John Franklin Stephens put her in her place with his eloquent and classy response.  I aspire to have that kind of class and grace in the face of such rampant insensitivity and disrespect.

Donald Trump, three and three-quarter years into the President's first term (yes, that's right, I said first term) still asserts the ludicrous claim that the President is not from around here.  That he wasn't born in Hawaii.  That he's not one of us.  On the surface, that is a reference to the fact that his father was Kenyan.  Beneath the surface is the kind of fear-monger code that is used to hint at something far more sinister.  What Trump doesn't quite understand, however, is that it's nearly impossible to get a job at White Castle without being born here, much more the White House.  How dare he diminish the accomplishment by saying -- groundlessly, at that -- that it doesn't count because he wasn't born here?

All this is, of course, ancillary to the fact that the office of the President of the United States has been so horrifically disrespect in casual public discourse over the last four years that it would be unappealing for a child to wish to hold it anymore.  And maybe, as we devolve into a post-political, pseudo-corporate entity, that's kind of the point.

But that's a topic for another rant.

Monday, October 15, 2012

... and I can't stands no more...

I've tried to abstain from making comments of an overly political nature.  I've ignored the circus largely because I know where my voting tendencies lie and I'm not in the business of trying to convince people to agree with me.  People have a right to believe in who they want to believe in and vote how they want to vote.  It's why I was on Stacey Dash's side last week when she was vilified for going public with her support of Mitt Romney.  I mean, I don't agree with her politics, but they're HER politics.

(I didn't necessarily agree with her quoting Martin Luther King, Jr. to defend her choice, but hey, she's an adult.)

The last ten days, however, I've seen the culmination of some of the most blatantly anti-American policies and politics in my lifetime.  This is stuff that hearkens back to the Jim Crow-era South.  Voter intimidation and voter disenfranchisement have become the stories of the summer, what with redistricting and new voter ID laws seemingly targeting minority and potential Liberal voters.  The voter ID laws in Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina are aimed at a non-existent voter fraud problem, and really only serve to eliminate the vote of underprivileged by requiring them to obtain  expensive and difficult to acquire state ID.

The most egregious stuff has happened within the last week.  David Seigel, the owner of Westwood Resorts in Florida, sent his 7000 employees a mass email that said that if President Obama were reelected, he would be forced to shutter his business and move to the Cayman Islands, thereby forcing 7,000 people out of work.  The Koch Brothers, billionaire conservative contributors, sent out a similar mass mailing that warned employees would "suffer the consequences" if Obama won a second term -- higher gas prices, higher mortgages, and a thinly veiled threat of higher unemployment.

Come on, man.  Isn't this illegal?

The so-called "job-creators," men with the keys to the kingdom,  threatening higher unemployment if we vote in our own interests?  If a place of employment did this kind of intimidation to people trying to unionize, they could be brought up on charges.

I can handle the constant pandering by our politicians.  I can handle the lies they tell, either blatantly or by omission.  I can handle "pundits" and "experts" decrying the opposition with hyperbole and exaggeration.  But don't fuck with my vote.

Don't try to tell me that I need six points of ID to have an opinion on the direction of my country.

Don't try to threaten my jobs if I don't vote the way you want.

I am a grown-ass man.  I will not be bullied.

Oh yeah, I'm not pulling these stories out of my ass.  Read about them here and here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Paved With Good Intentions (short post)

On October 1, a school district in Texas began requiring its students wear new ID badges with an RFID tracking chip, similar to those used in passports and Enhanced Driver's Licenses.  The purpose of this is to track when and where a student is in school.  This was met with obvious and appropriate outrage, leading some parents and students to balk at the idea of wearing them.  In response, the schools in question restricted their access to the cafeteria, library and deny them the right to participate in extracurricular activities.

Whoo boy.  What's wrong with this picture?

I'm going to skip over the idea that the schools in question have a large Latino population, largely because that is an assumption not based in anything but how bad this COULD be.  However, the bagging and tagging of children, essentially turning school into house arrest, this seems a little over the top.  Put aside the fact that an intrepid student can figure out how to beat the system when and if necessary; treating our kids like inmates in school isn't going to keep them safer, or make them go to class.  The measures, as well as the consequences for non-compliance, simply enhance the notion that we are turning into an Orwellian state, where Big Brother is watching you.  The school system essentially becomes a stalker.

To be honest, why hasn't anyone even thought of the idea that RFID isn't the most secure tracking system in the world, and these children can be tracked by anyone equipped to do it, such as people with card scanners.

I've said enough.  Read it here for yourself, draw your own conclusion.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Who The (Hell) Do You Think You Are?!

It's been a while.

I haven't written in this thing for a while, part self-promotion tool, part political platform, part self-discovery item, for a very simple reason: I thought I had run out of worthwhile things to say.  For someone who not only prides himself on the ability to use words to make a point, but thinks that this ability will directly impact and influence his future, this represents a sizable crisis of faith.

Ordinarily, especially in a political cycle rife with causes worth championing, I would have no shortage of opinion on either of the Presidential candidates, or the completely screwed-up times we live in.  I would offer up a cautionary tale of where we were headed as a society.  I didn't, not because I had a shortage of opinion.  This summer I let the thought creep into my head that I had a shortage of qualification.

More accurately, I asked myself the hard question "Who am I?"

If you want to split hairs, the words "the f***" might have appeared in that question somewhere.

We all have these times, I've noticed, where we wonder what business we have doing what we're doing.  Even the most confident, bold, and ambitious of us stop and look around as ask ourselves what in the blue hell we did to get here and what in the world we are exactly trying to accomplish.  This past summer I privately questioned a lot of things about myself as a writer, as an intellectual, and as a man.

Who the (hell) am I to have an opinion on politics?  These things are bigger than me.
Who the (hell) am I to expect to be taken seriously as a writer?  Serious writers don't self-publish.
Who the (hell) am I to think I have a chance at success?  Successful people have a lot more going for them.

Well, for starters, I am a citizen.  Not just an American citizen.  That is simply my nationality.  I am a member of the 7 billion-strong global community, where as small as my voice is on the grander scale of things, it still matters.  The policies put forth by the people who represent me to the country and to the world are of great importance, and I have a right and a responsibility to make my voice heard in that process.  I am represented by a group of people who will marginalize me and people like me at their convenience unless we make it impossible to do so, and the way to do that is to pay attention, absorb the information, form an opinion, and join the debate.

I expect to be taken seriously as a writer simply because I take myself seriously as a writer.  It's impossible to take someone seriously who doesn't present themselves as serious.  And you don't do that by screaming at the top of your lungs "Hey, I'm a writer, take me seriously."  You learn the craft.  You evolve your style.  you ignore the nay-sayers, and when they ask you if you're still doing that, you shrug and say "well, yeah, why wouldn't I be?"

As for success, well, I came to realize that there are two components: vision and drive.  Know what you want to the point that you can see it, and go get it.  Chase it like it were the most important thing in the world to you.  Never stop.  Sure, the successful people have something going for them that I may not yet: success.  But effort is the catalyst.  See it.  Get it.  Every success story has a beginning.

As the calendar turns to October, I find my faith renewed and my resolve strengthened.  I will use my voice. I will be more serious about my writing.  I will succeed.  These things are well within the scope of ability.

To anyone out there suffering a crisis of faith, and who finds themselves asking that question "Who the (hell) am I to..."  the answer is simple.  You are the author of your success story.  And today is chapter one.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Another Year...

Another 9/11 has arrived.

Yet another day of remembering where we were and what we were doing at a watershed event for this generation.  I don't know that I have the energy for it this year; after all, one can only stare at the pre-9/11 skyline of New York City for so long before you realize that you will never forget, no matter what you do to try.  How long can I do that before I stop being the wistful transplant, feeling sorrow and horror and sadness?  When do I become the doddering old man who is solemnly depressed because his childhood home was torn down?

I'm not saying it's time to move on.  Time has a way of doing that whether or not we're on board for it.  I am saying mourner beware.  We should never forget, we should have a place in our hearts for the buildings and the tragedy of loss of life, and the irreparable harm done to my city and my country alike.  I am saying that living in the past is a sure way to miss the future.  Time waits for no one.  A new tower rises from the ashes and steel of the old one.  Entire middle schools are now populated with kids who never saw the buildings up close, who have only known this to be reality.

So while we wrap ourselves with a blanket of sadness, my friends, it is time we begin to look to the future.  Rather than focus on what this has done to us eleven years on, it's time to shift that to who we've become in the aftermath.  That is a far more interesting conversation.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Chasing.

In the book I'm currently editing, there is a letter written from a father to a daughter telling her to pursue her dreams and what makes her happy because life is too short to not.  It's advice that we often give to ourselves but rarely take.

People spout of lately about YOLO (thanks, Drake), you only live once.  Which before that was embodied in Carpe Diem.  Live for the moment. I could go on.  Last night at my full-time gig, I encountered a retiree who explained that's what she was doing.  she was in her 60's, had worked her whole life, and truly knew what it meant at that stage to live for the moment.  Her and her husband had an arrangement where it wasn't a big deal if they weren't around for days at a time, they were just happy to see each other when they did.

I came to the realization that we say it a lot, to live for the moment, but we never do.  We're too young to live for the moment in our 20's and early 30's, so we live for the future.  Most of us have kids by our mid 30's and don't have time to live for the moment, so we live for their future.  Living for the moment, IN the moment, comes as a result of having made it to the future and ensured that of your children.  It is an expression of freedom, and quite frankly, until we don't have to worry about a mortgage anymore, about tuition anymore, about the responsibilities of day-to-day, we aren't truly free.  Every endeavor we make is about chasing that freedom.  We dream of the life we would have, free from the constraints of work and bill-payment.  We fantasize about fancy cars in our youth, or travel as we age.  We chase freedom.

The tragedy is that we don't truly live once until we've lived for some time.  The work-a-day life isn't living.  Paycheck-to-paycheck isn't living.  And as the best advice I ever got states, life is more than mere survival.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So, here's some updates...

So I'm taking a break from the ranting and raving about politics or sports or whatever to update you all on what's happening writing-wise...

Punch-Drunk Bastards is still in its last copy edits.  The copy editor I've hired is doing a wonderful job.  I've heard some positive feedback from some of my Facebook Test Readers, still waiting to hear back from others.  After Labor Day, I'm going to be going full steam to getting this in print.  Best case scenario is I sell this to a publisher, but if not I have no problem self-publishing again.  The stuff I learned from The Fab 5 has been instrumental in driving this project.  A more professional approach has been taken here, and the end of a seven year-long journey will arrive this year.

Open is last year's unfinished NaNoWriMo project that I've been tweaking here and there.  I completed 1/4 of the contest length of it during WriMo, and that's the most work I've ever generated in such a short period of time.  It felt good.  I had earlier stated that I would release bits of that story episodically on this blog, and I still plan on doing that once the first draft is completed.  Hopefully, publicly posting it would invite critique that I could use to improve the novel as a whole.  Look for the first draft sometime in December.

The Enclave is a vampire story I'm developing for this year's WriMo.  It has its roots in a series of short stories I wrote when I was younger, and had a little bit of notoriety among my close friends.  I won't say much about it now, but to be blunt... it ain't Twilight.  There's blood and gore and bullets and neuroses.  It's very much a guy's vampire story... ha ha ha.

Killer's Royale is an independent comic book project that I've been tapped to write.  Details are scarce, but I'm excited about it.   Scripting a comic has been a dream of mine for a very long time and I'm very excited that I'm even being considered to lend a voice to the project.

There are other projects in the hole that I haven't even gotten my head around as yet, but these are the four that should occupy the remainder of 2012, and most of 2013 if the Mayans are wrong.  One should always have a contingency plan, I guess...

So I'd like to take this time to give all my friends and family very loud and vocal thanks for the support shown over the years, it's been greatly appreciated and I look forward to making you all proud.  One day I'll add the word "fans" to the list of thanks, but I won't get too far ahead of myself.

Deuces!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Politics: In Case The Revolution Comes

Living in Brooklyn in the early 1990's meant dealing with gun violence.

In Flatbush at night, shots were frequently fired into the air and sent many of my friends diving for cover, even in the relative safety of their own homes.  Gunshots broke through windows and splintered doors, and it seems that almost nightly there was news of someone dying in a violent shootout somewhere in the borough. suffice it to say, it wasn't exactly fun.  Fast-forward 20-some years: the Second Amendment is touted as one of our most sacred of rights, that the threat of losing the right to bear arms is tantamount to the dissolution of civilization itself.

Take away our guns, and the terrorists win.

Before branding me the liberal that I am, let me say out loud and on the record that yes, I do understand that there is a difference between the guns that were fired on the block back home are different from the guns that everyone else is talking about.  Those guns were obtained "illegally" and likely were bought to perpetrate some evil crime or something or another.  The guns that the "good" people are talking about make everyone safer; after all, good responsible folk don't go around shooting people randomly, do they?

Living in the Pacific Northwest has been an eye opener to me.  New York State's gun laws are restrictive and nearly oppressive, being highly punitive to unlicensed weaponry.  Assault weaponry is banned, particularly in New York City, and the emphasis is keeping guns out of the hands of unbalanced people, and off the streets for potential criminal activity.  This makes New York State, despite the proliferation of illegal firearms in the State, one of the safest places from the threat of firearms.  By contrast, Washington State's culture regarding firearms is a bit different.  The laws are more lax, the attitudes are more lax.  Should it be surprising, then, that according to the FBI's unified statistics on crime, there are more violent crimes by handgun per capita in Washington State than in New York?  It shouldn't be but I bet people are shocked.

Now here's the question I want people to answer for me.  I understand why we have the right to bear arms, but why do we have the need to bear arms?  The answer I hear most is for protection, which seems kind of absurd to me.  I mean, only scared people need protection, and only scared people are likely shoot other people.  Why do people need to carry guns outside of the home?

I am, obviously, a big supporter of strict gun control.  I've seen too many funerals of too many friends from too many shootouts.  I believe the Second Amendment was made in a time of war, where the last thing anyone wanted to do was be unprepared in the event of an invasion by the British.  The times have passed, and unless we're waiting for the Revolution to come, we don't need to be armed like that.

I do believe the Federal Government should impose strict gun control laws.  I believe that there should be a yearly cap on the amount of firearms and ammunition produced for anything other than military and law enforcement purposes.  I believe that the right to carry in public or conceal and carry is ludicrous and should be repealed.

Unless, of course, the Revolution gon' come.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Review: The Newsroom: We Just Decided To

I had given up on scripted TV.

Great drama was sparse.  Intelligent television got canceled after barely a chance, and somewhere along the line, entertainment veered toward sensationalism with a particular focus on the drunken misadventures of Italian-American twentysomethings who referred to themselves in the derogatory.  Thank goodness for Aaron Sorkin, producer of The West Wing, because within the first nine minutes of HBO's The Newsroom, I was sold.  This is DVR-worthy.

Jeff Daniels does a remarkable job as beleaguered anchorman Will McAvoy, who while on an interview panel at Northwestern University, gets pressured into answering a question that went against his journalistic integrity.  What follows is a five minute pipe-bomb of a rant as to why America is NOT the greatest country on the planet.  (The answer will be the subject of my next blog entry.)   He returns from a three-week exile to find his entire staff turned over and faces the realization that he's not the man he used to be in many of the most important ways.  McAvoy's boss, played by Law & Order's Sam Waterston, hires his ex-girlfriend as his new executive producer, and she tries to get him back to being a newsman.

I never watched a Sorkin series.  Didn't catch a single episode of The West Wing.  I came away thinking maybe I should have.  I can't think of too much TV that left me with goosebumps.

The rest of the supporting cast was incredible as well, but this was Jeff Daniels' star vehicle.   His initial breakdown that set events in motion is something I wish I would see in news today.  Again, that's the subject of another blog.

Intelligent TV is back again, people.  We should watch it while we got it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Can we all get along?

That question has been repeated so many times, played for laughs and effect in so many situations over the last 20 years that people forget it was once not only a legitimate question, but an impassioned plea for peace.  Or at least for a return to the time where the hatred wasn't so open and destructive.

I thought about that question today, as I found out that Rodney King, the man who asked it, was found dead at the bottom of a swimming pool this past Sunday.  I thought about the question itself, the time it was asked, the circumstances behind it, and if 20 years later, we are any closer to an answer.

For those of you that don't know, Rodney King was the face of police brutality -- specifically against Black men-- in the early 90's.  The full story is that he was drunk, driving, and in violation of parole.  But when police caught him, they unleashed a massive beatdown, hitting him 50 times with batons and fists, and all of this was caught on a camcorder.  The four officers involved were acquitted of wrongdoing in a jury trial, and the result was Los Angeles burning in a three day-long riot, in which 55 people were killed.  As a result, Mr. King was asked by various media outlets for an interview, and he responded with his famous question, "Can't we all get along?"

I find it ironic, looking back, that the victim in all this was asked to be the healing agent, to call off the dogs so to speak.

It's a shame in any day and age that a question of whether or not individual members of a "civilized" society could get along without killing each other even comes up.  And it's an even greater shame when 20 years later, the answer to that question is still up in the air.  Can we all just get along?  I mean, in general, we all want the same things -- a place to call home, people with whom we can relate, a measure of comfort.  Can't we all work together to achieve our individual dreams?  Can we not cannibalize each other?  Can the color of our skin -- or differences therein -- not be a barrier to accomplishing these shared goals?

The disturbing thing behind this question is that although the answer should be - and in a perfect world, would be - a resounding yes, it's not.  It's not a resounding "no" either, which does instill some hope, but not nearly enough.  Rodney King's death underscores the failed realization of a dream, that while not quite as ambitious or moving or unifying as that other King Dream, is tragically unfulfilled.  Rodney King died in a world that was not entirely dissimilar to the world he lived in.  True, the President is Black, and there are more mixed children running around now than in anyone's memory.  However, the attitudes, the stereotypes, the training hasn't changed much.  I get cross-eyed looks from the police in this little tiny town I now reside in.

So what do we do about it? Can we all just... you know... get along?


Friday, June 15, 2012

Permission (short post)

I recently had a conversation with someone who asked me why I'm going to self-publish again, as opposed to going the traditional route.  After all, if I believe in it enough to sell it out of my trunk if need be, why not sell it to a publisher?  My answer to that is simple; why should I ask permission?

By hawking my project to a traditional publisher, I am asking them to believe in my project enough to sell it for me.  In short, I'm asking their permission for authorship, handing creative control and marketing control to them.  If they deem my project worthy, they will offer me a small percentage of its profits.  There most definitely is an Oliver twist reference in there somewhere.  Think about it this way: Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code made him, let's say, a million dollars.  It made his publisher $30 million.

Through most forms of business and employment, we, the employee are asking the employer for permission to have a better life.  We ask for raises, for time off, promotions, more office space, new co-workers.  And those requests are subject to the whim of whomever we're asking; they evaluate our worth, consider our request, and approve or deny at their will.  I do that enough at my regular job.  I refuse to do it for my passion.

By no means is this a rant against the basic fabric of American culture, or against the evils of work as a whole.  It's simply me saying that this writing thing is mine, and I do it on my terms.  Anyone who works, works in customer service, no matter what your occupation.  And everyone has a boss, be it a manager, regional director, COO, CFO, CEO, the government, or the ultimate boss, John Q. Public, the consumer.   Whether you are a self-employed writer, or a 40 hour a week cubicle inhabitant, we are all beholden to the consumer.  In my model, I want to remove as much middleman between me and the consumer as I can.

I ask permission to work a regular job, earn a regular wage, take a regular vacation, have a regular sick day.  Writing is not regular, and I feel the rules shouldn't have to apply.  Why will I self-publish?  Because I'm sick of asking.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ball Above All

I love NBA playoff time.

This time of year in 1991 started a real love affair with the game.  I've often said baseball is my sports wife, but basketball is most definitely my mistress.  In three short years I was fully invested in the game, and watching my hometown team in the NBA Finals.

I admit to, when I was a teenager, thinking I was a better ballplayer than I actually was.  But there was one constant.  After every game on a Saturday or Sunday, and with that very catchy NBA on NBC theme song freshly in our heads, my friends and I would head to Strickland Park on Mill Avenue, or Marine Park just off Flatbush, and we would take on all comers.  We would go and play for five or six hours, until we could no longer see the ball, and trek home.  In the summertime we would play every day, whenever we could, relying on our parents for bus fare.  The hot summer days spent on the blacktop in Brooklyn really solidified the bonds between me and my closest friends.  And hell, I was in the best shape of my life.

We had dreams in those days of being pro ballplayers.  We were hopelessly deluded.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Time Trippin to Music

We all have that one song that we immediately associate with the favorite times of our lives.  Or two songs.  Or better yet, that one year where we remember all the music we heard.

It was 1995 for me.  My family had FINALLY gotten cable six months before, and the wonders of MTV were finally made available to me.  I developed a weird habit of watching music videos on this channel.  All you young kids out there, that's what MTV used to be for.  And as much as it was about Biggie and Tupac, Wu-Tang, Nice -n- Smooth, Smif -n- Wessun, and L.O.N.S. , I developed a love for rock acts at the time: Hootie and the Blowfish, Blues Traveler, Green Day, Seven Mary Three, REM.

This week I got nostalgic and youtubed some older music. The videos are quite dated, and we look at some of it in the "I can't believe people wore that stuff on purpose" way, but I can't help but be brought back to my senior year of high school -- Edward R. Murrow in Brooklyn, where grunge, alternative and hip-hop kids somehow all got along.  I remember the clothes, the friends, the smells, even the bagel shop on Avenue M, right outside the train station.  I remember the security guards, the hangouts, and the countless hours lost to spades and dominoes.

And as the memories wash over me I realize one inescapable fact: I'm not 16 anymore.  Sigh.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lost In Expectation


Two years ago, one of the boldest, oddest, trippiest shows ever to grace a TV screen aired its final episode.  and as with the series itself, that episode was in and of itself one of the most polarizing events on television.  I'm talking, of course, about Lost.  There are people who get it, and many, many more people who don't.  My personal belief is that the show was a very bold social experiment about faith.

Lost, over six years, asks of its viewers an escalating suspension of disbelief.  48 people survive a plane crash on a desert island.  Sure.  But this island isn't quite so deserted.  Okay.  And the island is the home of some peculiar science experiments, including a doomsday EMP button. And the Other people on this island have a particular interest in a young boy.  Hmm, okay...  This Other group also don't want these people
to leave the Island, for fear of worse people coming to the Island, which has special healing properties if you are "worthy." So they move the Island.  And then there's time traveling.  And a visit to the afterlife.

Trying to explain the events of Lost is impossible without sounding like a blithering idiot.  It's kind of like trying to explain religion, ANY religion, to someone listening to only the words you say empirically.  Try, for instance, to listen to Catholic dogma with no emotional investment, just as words and as stories, and you'll get what I mean.  It's faith, attachment, that gives all of these events context and meaning, and the producers of the show very smartly presented the mystery and wonder of the Island and the castaways and asked us to do with it as we pleased.  Over time, faith was lost as some people I knew simply couldn't wrap their heads around it, or could no longer suspend disbelief.  Someone close to me referred to the show as an overly dramatic "Gilligan's Island."  But over time, people were rewarded with... whatever they were rewarded with as the show and its resolution meant something different to and touched something unique in everyone who watched it.  To me, it felt like a 118 hour movie, and by the middle of it, I realized that the movie wasn't about the Island, or the Others, or any of the insane and madcap stuff happening on it, but it was about the people.  These amazing adventurers that the show focused on, these wonderfully, ordinarily complex and flawed people that were placed in an over-the-top series of scenarios, and simply tried to cope.  These characters were people who were unable to be in the moment, to fully appreciate the mirales going on around them, the danger that they were in, and one the person who did, who could, seemed crazy for half
the show's run.  The more we found out about these people the more we rooted for them, rooted against them, believed in them.  Felt sadness when they died.  Felt joy in their successes.  One of my favorite moments in the show was when Jack revived Charlie after he was strung up from a tree.  I honestly pumped my fist and cheered.

Two years later I re-watched the show, beginning to end.  All the episodes I loved and hated.   I walked away, knowing from the beginning how it would end, with a sense that the creators of the show -- JJ Abrams, Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, et al -- crafted this brilliant, moving, wondrous exploration of faith and hope and wonder, of good and evil, of forgiveness and regret, and of destiny.  All of these are relatable themes as we all struggle to find our place in this world, regardless of age, race, ability, or situation.

To date, Lost is my favorite show of all time.  The only thing I found to be unbelievable was that there were THAT many impossibly attractive people on one flight.  I fly.  Regularly.  I've never been on a flight with one hot woman, much less with a hot fugitive chick, a hot pregnant chick, a hot rich chick and a hot Korean chick.  And what WAS the deal with that island...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

RIP Donna Summer

Yet another piece of my early childhood musical education has passed on.

Legendary disco queen Donna Summer has passed away, losing her battle with cancer.  She was 63.

Much of my family were young in the mid to late 70's, when disco was in its heyday, so it was far from uncommon to hear some of that stuff in the mid 80's in my house as my older siblings were "digging in the crates" for older records.  For all you younger folk, records are three generations before mp3s.  "Hot Stuff" and "Let's Dance" are two of my older brother's favorite songs... and I have his disco mix CD to prove it.

Ms. Summer was the picture of class, and the world is lesser for her loss.  Rest in Peace.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Writing Process

I very rarely ever talk about my process for writing.  It's a whole list of idiosyncrasies, superstition, learned habits (both good and bad), and copied habits from other, more effective writers I know.

Chief among them is the Playlist.  Everything I write since The Fab 5 (cheap plug) has had a soundtrack accompanying it.  And of course, by soundtrack, I mean collection of my favorite songs that are appropriate for the project.  The Fab 5 had a very heavy Notorious B.I.G. influence to it, to the point where the characters break into song on the bus.  The song they sing?  Juicy.

Punch-Drunk Bastards has a hip-hop/classic rock soundtrack with a few ballads for good measure.  For the fight portion of the story, songs that go along with it are by Busta Rhymes ("We Could Take It Outside"), Bamboleo ("El Bueno Soy Yo"), Jay-Z (Face/Off, several others), plus James Taylor ("Fire and Rain") and Tracy Chapman ("Give Me One Reason").  Certain songs fit certain parts of the book, almost like scoring a movie, and help me get through a scene and process it.

My new project-in-progress, Open, has a few more "love songs" in it, even though the book is darkly sexual.  Artists include the Beatles, Sade, Bill Withers, and Aretha Franklin.  Eclectic I know, but once you read it, it almost makes sense (Imagine "Come Together" at the kitchen scene, once you get to read it).  Anyway, from the Playlist comes the tone of the project, as well as the motivation to keep going, kind of like a workout.

I've also been notorious for going through notebooks like tissue paper.  Everything I've ever started to write, plus the original drafts of my first two novels, was written in a Marble Composition notebook.  Over the years I've accumulated quite a collection of those things.  Part of the reason NaNoWriMo was such a challenge for me is that it completely took me out of my normal routine for writing.  I loved it.

Anyhoo, that's enough ranting about my process for now.  Any writers out there with tips to share?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Is the Civil Rights Movement over? (short post)

Today, the state of North Carolina will pass a constitutional amendment strictly defining marriage as between a man and a woman, thereby banning gay marriage, and becoming the 30th state to do so.  I'm not gay, and I can  still see how this affects me directly.

We are regressing as a nation, folks.  We have gotten to the point where we are selectively disallowing certain American citizens certain rights.  We've been down this road before, in the Jim Crow-era South, and it didn't work out so well.  The law banning the practice of Islam, as short-sighted and asinine as it would be, is just around the corner should this come to pass.  After all, one of the reasons this is even a conversation is that "we're a Christian nation."

The collective xenophobia (fear of the unknown) of the powers-that-be are going to descend this nation into a very dark time.  The turbulent 60's, the movements of Dr. King and Malcolm X may have been in the short term about black Americans, but the bigger picture of what they fought for is that legislated injustice should not be allowed to stand.  The differences between us should not empower one individual over another, should not entitle one to basic human rights over another.

So I posit this thought; is the Civil Rights Movement over?  I mean, we got what we wanted out of it, and we even have a President in office to show for it.  Is this as far as it goes?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Role Model (repost)

Found this digging through some of my old writing.  It is surprisingly still relevant.



Who do you celebrate; the man or the athlete? 

Men (and women) are flawed, make mistakes and poor decisions, have to validate their choices, their very existence to themselves and loved ones. Athletes are these impossibly heroic superbeings, perfect in form and physique, whose talents and feats elevate them to a place of near godhood. 

Who do you celebrate? 

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer the world has ever known. He is the elite athlete in a sport that traditionally shunned men and women like him. He is the most marketable name in the pantheon of marketable names. He is the epitome of what can happen if you work long and hard at a particular skill, of the success that can be attained through perseverance. He is a hero. 

Tiger Woods is a wealthy and powerful individual with a family, who, it has been revealed, acted as wealthy and powerful men do. He had mistresses. Several mistresses. Who acted like the mistresses of wealthy and powerful men do. They kept the secret until the secret came out. Tiger Woods betrayed his wife and children. He is the villain. 

Alex Rodriguez may go down as the greatest baseball player since George Herman Ruth. He admitted to cheating, to artificially enhancing his body for three years to boost his stats and make the people love him more. He is the ultimate douchebag. 

Alex Rodriguez is a father/was a husband. He admitted to cheating, many women on many road trips. He was divorced, taken to the cleaners, lost. He has found love again. He is the ultimate reclamation project. 

Derek Jeter is the face of the most popular and successful franchise in sports. He has numerous personal accolades, several world championships. Plays the game "the right way," and his peers have gone on record to say they would lose faith in the game, in sports, if it ever came out he was cheating the game. He is the ultimate idol. 

Derek Jeter is a wealthy young guy living in New York City. He has a vast multitude of women at his disposal, from entertainers to beauty queens. He is the ultimate player. 

The question is, who do we want our children to be like? The athlete or the man? Here's the kicker, the answer is none of the above. We wnt our children to be OUR heroes, live the lives we never could, be all that we could not be. Succeed where we failed. All in the name of wanting the best. 

So here's to all the children, our role models. And all the parents, our devoted fans.

Friday, April 13, 2012

"Believe me, that IS hard work."

Warning:  The following post is of a political nature, exemplifying my pinko leftist commie beliefs and railing against wealthy right-wingers.  It also contains sexual wordplay involving politicians and their wives.  Reader discretion is advised.

The most demeaning thing that's ever happened to me happened when I was about 19 years old, living in New York, and making just a hair above minimum wage at a thankless job I worked after school.  It was at a home heating fuel company, and the grandson of the owner was brought in to meet the staff.  He was about 12 or 13 at the time.  My older brother and I were the only people of color who worked in the office as opposed to out on the trucks, and he paid particular attention to us.  He came to me (and my brother, I later found out) and asked what it was like to work and go to school.  After I told him the answer (it sucked and I was always broke), he said to me "Keep at it.  That sort of thing builds character."

I'm sure he thought he was being inspirational.

I bring this up because of a conversation I had with a co-worker.  I've been largely ignorant of the political scene this election cycle because as we get closer to a one-on-one battle, the rhetoric gets ramped up to unpleasantly ugly attacks and I want no part of it.  I know who I'm voting for already, and have no time or patience for what amounts to a high stakes playground game of "the dozens."  That said, it was brought to my attention that a woman publicly criticized Ann Romney, the wife of probably Republican candidate Mitt Romney, as being unfit to comment on the state of women in the workplace considering that as a stay-at-home mom and wife of a gajillionaire, she's never worked a day in her life.  Her response:  "I was a stay at home mom raising five boys.  Believe me, that IS hard work."

Huh.

There is so much here to dissect.  Let's start with the fact that the woman, Hilary Rosen, an LGBT activist, was forced to apologize.  For exercising her First Amendment rights.  Simply because this rich chick got offended.  Is that where we are now?  It's okay to call Trayvon Martin a thug, or say on radio that women who require contraceptives should be made to videotape their sex lives, but offend a rich chick who had the good fortune to blow the stock broker who became Governor, and all hell breaks loose?  Certain factions of the populations make derogatory racial remarks about our PRESIDENT, but offend a rich white lady and you have to apologize.  I call bullshit.  The people who are so fervent about protecting certain rights seem to be very pissed off when these rights extend past them to the rest of us.

Secondly, Ms. Rosen was right.  Ann Romney hasn't had to work hard a day in her life, and between Mormon missionary work and the "job" that got her married, she hasn't ever had to punch a clock.  She's never had to make ends meet.  And let's be real, I find it hard to believe this rich missionary lady ever really had to do very much of the actual raising of her five boys.  It's easy to be a stay at home mom when you never have to even worry about paying the bills.  My mother never had that luxury.  She worked, put herself through school and fed seven hungry mouths.  Now believe me, THAT is hard work.

I have a huge problem with this "let them eat cake" attitude with which the wealthy 1% regards the rest of us.  This culture of entitlement they seem to have engendered has only gotten more brazen in the wake of the Bush years, that they are supposed to walk over us, and we are supposed to genuflect before them and that is just supposed to be the status quo.  No.  Hell no.  That's not the country the Founding Fathers signed on for.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Punch-Drunk Bastards (excerpt)

This is a preview of my soon-to-be completed second novel, Punch-Drunk Bastards.  If you like it say so. If you love it, pass it on!






Prologue



Last night…


     The tapping of the smooth silver ballpoint pen against the notepad sounded very much like a metronome gone out of control.  Crumpled balls of paper littered the handsome wooden desk like a graveyard of bad ideas as the thinning notepad lay blank before him.  The paper’s watermark – a green-tinged lion’s head logo – stared mockingly at him, daring him to try again to write something poignant.  Or even just intelligent.  In fact, at this point, the lion would even have settled for something merely coherent.
     He reached for the tiny bottle of vodka – airplane-sized, from the mini-bar - that he had been sipping.  He upended it, emptying the last of the clear, caustic liquid down his throat.  He felt his face flush as the liquor burned a path into his stomach.  He closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of drifting off to drunkenness.
     When his mouth and throat cooled he reopened his eyes.  The lion still looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to begin this manifesto, this great work that would make her understand why.  He tentatively put the pen to paper and was trying to decide the letter’s opening line.
     To whom it may concern…
     He had barely formed the final “n” when he tore the page from its pad.  To whom it may concern, he thought.  How silly.
     He tossed the balled up sheet of paper to the side and started again, dating the top of the page.  He went over in his mind how letters were supposed to start, with Dear Someone, or Dearest Whomever.  He wrote: I don’t even know your name.
     He smiled as he finished writing that one line.  He cracked open the miniature bottle of premium vodka queued up next to him, sucked it down and added the empty to the paper graveyard.  He was drunker than he had been in a long time, but at least the words were flowing.
     My name is Michael Dane.  I’m your father.  A little Darth Vader-esque, he thought, but it worked.  If you’re reading this then I’m dead.  He paused a moment after he wrote that; the finality of those words made his stomach gurgle.  Doubt, nervousness and fear crept into his mind, all at once, and all for the first time since this whole thing started.  He wondered if this whole deal was such a good idea after all.
     Drunkenness helped him rediscover his resolve.  He had no choice after all.  He wrote: And of course you’re reading this, because I know I’m going to die.





Chapter One



     The lights in the locker room hummed and flickered above Michael Dane’s head as the last of the gauze was taped tightly to his hands.  He looked up and held his breath for a moment as he punched the palms of his hands, exhaling when the fluorescent rods snapped back on full strength, buzzing as if a fly were trapped inside.  Soon after, they flickered again, and something in his stomach danced to the rhythm of the lights.  When fully lit, the locker room was cream-colored brick from the ground up to about three feet, with drywall painted an off-white color– beige, or maybe eggshell- going up to the ceiling.  Michael sat on an elevated table in the center of the room, a small metal bowl with gauze, tape and scissors next to him.  The table was brown leather and heavily padded, like the one he saw in his doctor’s office.  The lights dimmed again, freezing Michael’s breath. He exhaled only when they came back on.
     “Why don’t they do something about that?” he said, testing the wrist support of the gauze.  “It’s annoying.”
     The pot-bellied black man putting the tape on Michael’s hands stood from the stool in front of the table.  “Perfect,” he said.  “Let’s get the gloves.”  He hustled over to the locker on the other side of the room and pulled out a pair of black boxing gloves with “DANE” printed on the wrists in gold block letters.
     Michael took another deep breath to try to stop the salsa dancing girls in his stomach as the gloves were slid onto his hands.  “This is it, Dutch,” he said to the fat man as the gloves were tied up.  “Showtime.”  He hopped off the table and began to loosen up, rolling his head from side to side, and finally shadowboxing his way toward the wall, bobbing, weaving, and striking his imaginary opponent.
     Dutch quickly glanced at the clock on the wall behind Dane.  “Easy, killer,” he said with a laugh.  “Don’t tire yourself out.  We still got at least 10 minutes.  Keep your shorts on.”  Michael laughed too and stopped shadowboxing.  The dancing in his stomach changed from salsa to a waltz.  Dutch tightened the laces on the gloves and glanced up at his fighter.  “God damn it,” he said.  “I can’t believe we’re finally here.  Main event, title fight.  It’s been a long time coming.”
“Relax,” Michael said.  “Everything’s going to be fine.”
     “Be nice to get out there and get it over with.  I’m too old for this stress.”
     Michael smiled quickly from the corner of his mouth.  “Stop worrying,” he said.  “You trained me, didn’t you?  Haven’t we been working to get right here, right now since I was like 12?  I’m ready, Dutch, don’t stress it.  I got a job to do.”  Dane flexed his hands through the tape and took a deep breath. Tension rippled through his arms as every muscle bulged and relaxed in succession. “You’re making me nervous.”
“You should be.  Nervous is good.  It keeps you focused, careful, and on your feet.”  Dutch wrapped duct tape around Michael’s gloves at the wrists.  “You ready?”
Michael nodded and bounced on the balls of his feet.  “Born ready,” he said as he led the way toward the ring, shadowboxing his way out the door.  Dutch rolled his eyes at the statement and followed his fighter out.

**********

One by one, people were funneled into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.  The crowd grew steadily to capacity, and the people coming in late were hard pressed to make it to their seats.  It was only a few minutes before the main event was scheduled to start: the heavily-favored IBF Light-Heavyweight Champion Quin Cortez vs. the underdog, but well-regarded Michael Dane for 12 rounds.  The excitement was palpable as the crowd noise started to sound like boiling spaghetti.  Cortez, a lean, chiseled Dominican with a devastating right hook, had mowed down everything in his path to this point and his fights had been so short lately that his pay-per-view bouts were offered by the round.  Dane, on the other hand, was a veteran who insiders felt never quite reached his potential.  He usually finished fights with a powerful overhand right and was undefeated since his release from prison, but many felt had lost his best years while incarcerated for a gun violation.
The rest of the card had just been a warm-up for this, but the early comers and die-hards wouldn’t deny themselves an undercard fight, especially those who had paid for whole night.  The fights themselves were exciting enough.  One featured a couple of middleweights from Mexico no one had ever heard of that went eight rounds before one of them was dropped by a surprise right hook.  Another had a has-been from Miami, Florida fight a never-was from Vancouver, British Columbia.  That fight went the distance and ended in a draw; both fighters were bruised and bloody afterwards and the crowd showed its appreciation.  They were only filler though, appetizers for Dane vs. Cortez.  The past few weeks, Cortez and Dane sniped at each other in the press, and officials had to separate them at the previous night’s weigh-in was stopped just before fireworks really started.  The entire crowd was chomping at the bit for this to finally get underway. 
     A slender, dark-skinned man in a white suit– a three-piece he wore with a charcoal gray shirt and red tie and shiny white leather shoes- sat cross-legged in the front of one of the reserved luxury skyboxes, above the press boxes and high above the crowd with a lit cigar firmly cued between his first two fingers.  He checked his gleaming platinum watch impatiently as he took a deep drag on the cigar.  A thin, young usher, no more than 20 years old, walked past him, leading a pair of middle-aged white men to the seats behind him.  The kid seated the two men and came back to the well-dressed man.  “Sir,” he said, clearing his throat, “you can’t smoke that in here.”
     The well-dressed man exhaled thick gray smoke from his nose.  “Pardon me, son?” he said, fixing his lazy, but somehow intimidating stare on the usher.  “I didn’t catch that.”
     The usher’s hands fidgeted a bit.  “There’s no smoking in here,” he said, trying to sound firm, but instead cracking his voice.  “You’re going to have to put that out.”
     The well-dressed man reared back and let out a sound halfway between smoker’s hack and laughter.  “You can’t be serious,” he said, letting the cigar hang from the corner of his mouth.  He took another drag and blew out a ring of smoke.  “You do know who I am, right?”
     The usher nervously pointed to the NO SMOKING UNDER PENALTY OF LAW sign posted directly above them.  “I’m sorry,” he said, sheepishly.  “I really am going to have to ask you to put that out.”
     The well-dressed man turned his head and stared into the eyes of the usher as darted everywhere to avert the gaze.  The man sucked in a couple of quick puffs as he reached inside his coat pocket.  The usher flinched a bit and held his breath.  When the man pulled out a silvery, rectangular cigar case, the usher breathed a deep sigh of relief.
     The well-dressed man tapped the ash on the floor. W ith a low hiss, he extinguished the cigar against the case.  “Satisfied?” he said.
     “I’m sorry, Mr. Alexander,” the usher said.  “Just doing my job.”
     “You’re welcome,” the well-dressed man said under his breath as the usher scurried off.  Once the kid was out of sight, he pulled another cigar from the case.
     “Hope you have better control of your fighter than you do your event, Dante.”  The man in white looked around for the source of this statement and saw a Puerto Rican man in a black suit sitting behind him, smiling from ear to ear.  Dante reached into his jacket pocket for his lighter with his left hand, and flipped the Puerto Rican man off with his right.
     “Trust me, Castillo,” he said, lighting the cigar and taking a quick drag.  “Everything’s set.  Just remember your end of the deal.”
     Castillo smiled and leaned back in his seat.  “Don’t worry about that.  I’ll deliver when you deliver.”
     “Then shut the hell up,” Dante said, turning his attention toward the ring.  “It’s about to start.”

**********

In the hallway leading to the ring, Michael Dane bounced on the balls of his feet, pounding his gloves together as Dutch paced in front of the closed door. An official from the Athletics Commission inspected Michael’s gloves for anything illegal.  When he was satisfied, he signed the duct tape and waved them through.
     Security guards in bright yellow blazers opened the door from the inside of the arena and motioned them in.  Blinding white spotlights shone directly on the chiseled light-skinned black man with the shaved head and his portly, broad-shouldered, darker trainer.  The roar of the crowd and the thumping bass line of Busta Rhymes’ “We Could Take It Outside” poured through the open door as if being sucked out by a vacuum.  Dutch put his hands on Michael’s shoulders and pushed him out.
     “It’s showtime,” he said again as he walked behind his protégé.
     Michael stalked toward the ring, close to the fans, as always, so they could touch him.  He rolled his neck from side to side as he approached the ring.  Flash bulbs and spotlights blinded him momentarily and every time his eyes adjusted, another would go off.  Dutch walked behind him, keeping his hands on Michael’s shoulders as they made their way through the crowd.  They looked up at the giant video screen suspended above the ring and saw their high-definition reflection, 20 times life size.  Michael climbed the ring steps at his corner, stepped between the ropes and raised a fist in the air.  After Dutch took off his robe, Michael climbed the ropes in the corner, rubbed the panther’s paw tattoo on his chest and pointed out to the crowd.




               Chapter Two



Twelve weeks earlier…

     Michael looked over at the Dante Alexander’s massive, ursine bodyguard and pondered how he got himself into this situation.  He was supposed to be training, in anticipation of a title fight.  Now he was riding in a dimly lit 4-by-6 elevator that smelled like piss and creaked as the ancient cable pulley inched the little box upwards.  Instead of being surrounded by trainers, he was in the company of Jason Boone, a well-dressed 6’6”, 350 pound black bear of a man, and the black bean burrito Boone kept belching up through this interminable ride.
     “I got Boone doing something for me in the projects by Long Island City,” Michael remembered Dante saying in his office earlier that day.  “I need you to go with him.  I normally wouldn’t ask you, but I got no one else.”
     Michael chuckled to himself.  Dante never actually asked.  “What for, though?” Michael had replied.  “Boone’s a big boy, I’m sure he can handle himself.”
     Dante smiled.  “This is true.  It couldn’t hurt to have an extra pair of hands though, right?”
     Michael was relieved when the grimy and cramped little elevator finally opened at the 12th floor.  He wasn’t sure that it ever actually would, and there was barely enough room in there for him, Boone and Boone’s burrito halitosis.  Boone walked out and Michael followed, letting out a deeply held breath.
“And of course, you’ll be very well compensated for your time,” Dante had said.  Michael remembered the smile Dante was wearing: friendly on the surface, menacing about half a layer underneath.  It was like a neighbor’s dog about to warn you he was done playing.  “Do you trust me?”
     “On this? Not really.”
     Dante laughed.  “I appreciate your honesty.”
     “I don’t want to hurt anyone, Dante.  I’m done with that part of my life.”
     “Michael,” Dante said, “you’re a prize fighter.  You train yourself night and day in the art of hurting people.  You get paid a lot of money to hurt people.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Plus, how do you think we can afford your training?”
     Michael closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  “So what exactly are we doing?”
     “Hey, wake up,” Boone said as now they stood in front of Apartment 12C.  “You ready?”  Michael nodded, and Boone knocked on the door.  After a few moments of silence, Boone knocked again.
     “I’m coming, I’m coming,” Michael heard faintly from inside the apartment, followed immediately by some shuffling, either of people or items.  A tall, skinny black man pulled the door open as much as the security chain allowed and peeked out.  His hair was matted as if it hadn’t been combed in weeks, and an acrid smell seeped from his pores and assaulted Michael’s nose.  He nervously looked to his left and saw Boone.  “Who are you?”
     “Dante sent me,” he said.  “Are you Ray-Ray?”
     Ray-Ray looked to the right side of the door and saw Michael.  “Who’s this?”
     Michael glanced quickly at Boone, who took off his sunglasses and put them in his jacket pocket.  “Extra pair of hands,” Boone said.

                       ****************

     Apartment 12C was strangely barren.  The four people passed out on and around the couch in the living room space served as most of the dwelling’s furniture. The one dim lamp in the center of the room, and the dull blue static haze coming from the TV made up most of the room’s lighting.  Ray-Ray had led them to a small round dining table set up by the window in that poorly lit living room.  On the table was a Bunsen burner, the kind Michael used in chemistry class before he dropped out of high school, and a small spoon that looked like it used to be silver.  Most of the spoon’s handle still was.  About two-thirds of the spoon started going black, and the business end of it was rust-brown, scarred with flakes and heat blisters.  Michael felt his heart implode; this is a dope deal!
     “I ain’t expect Dante to send someone so soon,” Ray-Ray said, nervously scratching his neck.  He shifted his weight uneasily from side to side and his eyes darted around the room.  “I’d have cleaned up a bit, or something.”
Boone raised his hand and Ray-Ray’s blithering stopped.  “You got the money?” Boone asked.
Ray-Ray scampered across the apartment to the kitchen and reached under the sink.  He pulled out a faded red coffee can, reached in and pulled out an envelope.  He scurried back to the living room space and handed it to Boone.  “All there,” Ray-Ray said.  “Down to the last dollar.”
“I hope so,” Boone said, removing a hefty stack of hundred-dollar bills from the envelope and peeling them off one by one.  “I’d hate to be you if it wasn’t.”
“Whoa man, what are you doing?  You’re gonna count that right in front of me?  That’s fucked up.  Don’t you trust me?”
Boone shot him an icy glare, and once again Ray-Ray was silenced.  “Of course not, Ray-Ray.  But if it’s all here, what difference does that make?”  Boone counted for what seemed like an hour on the first pass, then counted the stack twice more before getting up quickly and grabbing Ray-Ray’s throat in one fluid motion.  “Where’s the rest, Ray?”
Oh hell, Michael thought.

               ****************

“Mm-hmm,” Boone said calmly into his cell phone as he held the lower half of Ray-Ray’s face in his death grip.  Ray-Ray’s scream was muffled by the huge leather-gloved paw that covered his mouth, and Boone lifted the phone away from his face.  “Shh,” he said to Ray-Ray.
Michael’s eyes jumped wide and his mouth dropped.  This situation took a hard left turn into uncomfortable territory, and he wasn’t sure how to deal with it. “Yo, Boone, let him down,” he said.  “What the fuck are—“
     “Shut up,” Boone said, calmly, lifting the phone from his face for a split second before returning to his conversation.  “Mm-hmm.  Okay.  Got it.  Thanks.”  He closed his cell phone and got right into Ray-Ray’s face.  “Well, Ray,” he said, tightening his grip, “today may be your lucky day.”  He let Ray-Ray go and put his sunglasses back on.  “As you can imagine, Dante’s not very happy about the money being light.”
“I’m sorry, man,” Ray-Ray whimpered as he gasped for breath and massaged his jaw.  “I didn’t know it wasn’t all there.  I wouldn’t do that to Dante.  I swear, I didn’t know.”
Boone put his hands up to concede the protest.  “Of course you didn’t,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his bland manner.  “Honest mistake.  We understand that, don’t we, Mike?” 
Michael nodded nervously.  “You’re only human,” he said.  It could have happened to anyone.”   
“Yeah,” Ray-Ray said.  “Everyone makes mistakes. I’m sorry.”
Boone smiled.  “Exactly.  Dante knows you’re sorry, and he’ll even forgive you, provided you have something he needs.”  “Anything,” Ray-Ray instantly replied.  “If he needs it and I got it, it’s his, no problem.”    
“That’s the kind of cooperation I like to see, Ray.”  Boone cleared his throat before continuing.  “You have anything to drink in here?”  Ray-Ray hastily filled a plastic cup with water and handed it to Boone, who downed it in one gulp.  “He needs information, Ray,” he continued.  “Where’s the rest of the money?” 
“It was supposed to be there,” Ray-Ray said.  “We sold some to some Jamaicans and we were supposed to collect from them yesterday.  I-I mean, you know how Jamaicans can be flaky with this shit.  I sent those dudes to collect.”  He pointed over to the four men passed out in the living room.  “I don’t know what happened.”
Boone laughed for a second and unbuttoned his suit jacket.  “You know, I told Dante the same thing on the phone just now.  You heard me tell him that you sold it and were waiting for the payout.  I did my best to defend you.  He seems to be convinced otherwise.”  Boone reached into his jacket and swatted Ray-Ray in the face with the barrel of his gold-plated 9mm, knocking him to the ground.  “He also said you were into him about fifty grand.  Don’t be stupid, Ray.  Where is it?”
     “I don’t fuckin’ know!” Ray-Ray said.  His eyes widened and he started to sweat.
     Michael was frozen in place as Boone pointed the gun at Ray-Ray.  “Either you’re lying or you’re an idiot,” Boone said.  “In any case, if you don’t cough up the money, the drugs, or the Jamaicans, you’re useless to Dante.”  He clicked off the safety catch.  “And useless means dead.”
     “Yo, for real, I don’t know!”  Ray-Ray said.  He was breathing heavily now, and tears started to leak from his tightly closed eyes.  “I swear to God, I don’t know nothin’ about what happened!”
     Boone pulled the slide back and took a step away.  “Well, Ray,” he said with a heavy sigh, “that sounds a whole lot like a problem.”
     Finally forcing himself to make a move, Michael slid between Boone and Ray-Ray and shoved Boone back.  “Yo, man,” Michael said, “is you crazy?”
Boone peeked out at the end of his own gun and smiled coolly at Michael.  “I was just about to ask you the same thing.”                                            
Michael looked down at Ray-Ray, on the ground with his eyes shut tight, then at the killer end of Boone’s gold plated nine.  His heartbeat grew louder as he felt it crawl up his throat.  He tried his best to ignore the flight part of the fight or flight response.
Then again, he thought, fighting probably ain’t the best idea, either.
“Get out of the way, Michael,” Boone said calmly.
“What are you doing, man?” Michael asked, voice quavering.  “Are you out of your mind?”
Boone smiled.  “You’re asking me?  You’re the one standing between the gun and the junkie.”
Michael shook his head and took a step toward Boone.  “Come on, big man, you know this ain’t right.  He don’t got what you want.  Put the gun down.”
Boone reached into his jacket with his free hand and produced another gold plated nine, pointing it at Michael.  “Step aside,” he said, though Michael could barely hear him over the sound of his heartbeat pulsing through his ears.  “Please.  I don’t want to kill you.”  
Michael’s body tensed and his fingers went numb.  “Yo, what the fuck are you doing?”
Please,” Boone said, louder and more assertive, cutting Michael off.  “Move.”  Michael hesitantly stepped to his left and the barrel of Boone’s gun followed him.  “Now, as I was saying, Ray-Ray, I need to know where the Jamaicans are.”
Ray-Ray’s eyes were wide and glassy.  He took, short shallow breaths as his eyes darted back and forth between Boone and Michael.
“Ray, wake up,” Boone said.  “I asked you a question.  Jamaicans.  Where are they?”
“I don’t know, man,” Ray-Ray whined.  “I swear.”
Boone turned the second gun on the crying addict on the ground and Michael let out an audible sigh of relief, despite himself.  He caught himself saying, “Oh thank God,” involuntarily as his body relaxed. 
“That’s not the answer I needed to hear, Ray.”
“It’s the fucking truth, I swear to fucking God.  I haven’t seen or heard from them.  I thought they was dead or got popped by the fives.”
“Come on, Ray, stop fucking with me.  If you don’t have my money, my dope, or the information I need, why are we letting you live?”  He flipped off the safety catch on the other gun and used his free fingers to pull the slide back.  “You’re useless.”    “I’ll get it!”
Boone paused.  Michael was again frozen in place, and for a moment, the only sound in the room was Ray-Ray’s panicked whimpering.  “I’ll get it,” he said again.  “Tell Dante I’ll get it.”
“Get what Ray?” Boone said.  “What are you getting?” “Information.  On how to find those motherfuckers.  They have Dante’s money.  I’ll get it. J-just please, don’t kill me.”  Ray-Ray’s words turned into barely comprehensible sobs.  “Just please don’t kill me, please, please don’t kill me.”
Boone’s finger hovered over the trigger for a couple of moments before he flipped the safety catches of both guns back on.  Ray-Ray let out a sigh of relief and a stream of urine in his pants as Boone put the guns back in his shoulder holsters.  Boone looked over at the still shell-shocked Michael and nodded.  He extended his hand to Ray-Ray and helped him to his feet.  Ray-Ray shivered as Boone adjusted the man’s tank top and mussed his matted hair.  “Well, damn brother,” he said in a calm whisper, “that’s all you had to say.”

                 ****************

Boone drove along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway on the way back, just above the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit.  It was almost 10:00 p.m., and the highway was about as empty as you could expect in New York on a Wednesday night.  Boone drove straight and just fast enough to not slow up traffic.  He turned on the smooth jazz station and drummed his fingers on the wheel, humming along to the wordless tune that came in over the radio, seemingly oblivious to the chaos that had just transpired.
Michael sat in the front passenger seat.  He hadn’t spoken a word since Boone drew a gun on him, but his heartbeat was returning to normal, finally.  He took a deep breath and gazed over at Boone, who appeared content – or, rather, as content as Boone ever appeared.  He didn’t look like someone who had two men at gunpoint 20 minutes earlier.
Michael didn’t realize he was staring until Boone cleared his throat and said, “I hope you don’t think I’m cute.”    Michael was jolted out of his daze.  “What?”
“It’s a miracle, you can speak,” Boone said dryly.  “I thought you went mute on me.”
Michael rolled his eyes and looked out the passenger window.  “Yeah.  I’m fine.  I’m all right, considering, you know, you had a gun pointed at me.”
“Come on, now,” Boone said, stifling a laugh.  “What that was back there was a classic case of ‘good cop, bad cop.’ It worked perfectly.” 
“You pulled.  A gun.  On me.”
“Nothing personal, dog.  Don’t be mad.”
“Nothing personal?  I thought you were gonna shoot me!”   Boone thought about it a moment.  “For a second, I was.”   Michael’s heart stopped for a beat and his eyes gaped.
“Oh relax,” Boone said.  “Stop being such a bitch, will you?  It’s not like I’d have killed you.  I’d probably have gotten you in the arm or something.  A flesh wound.  I know you got the big fight coming up.  You did the smart thing though, and got out of the way.  You let the bad cop do his job.”  Michael hissed through his teeth.  “You’re fucking crazy, you know that?”   
“Like I said, it was nothing personal.  It’s just business.”