Reading, Writing, and Being Blocked

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2015 by tom

Most anyone who’s tried to write has experienced writer’s block. Whether it’s a brief college paper or a full-length novel, you sit there, staring at a blank screen, the cursor blinking at you almost mockingly.

I’ve discovered something equally nefarious in my life: reader’s block.

For the past few years, I’ve suffered from severe bi-polar disorder. One of the more difficult symptoms for me has been lack of concentration. Sadly, with this lack of concentration has come the inability to focus long enough to read a novel. Hell, sometimes I can barely get through a magazine article, much less a 300 page book.

We heal, though, and with the help of various medications, I’ve gotten my focus back.

I can’t tell you how liberating it has been to start a book, then actually read it through to the end. Even better, to read, then be able to write a cogent review for Goodreads or my book blog (BooksAndMoviesAndCrap.com)—sheer bliss.

My book-blogging Maven went through a period of reader’s block a while back. She devours a book a day, and she hit a wall, too, so I don’t feel bad.

Where I feel bad is that it was almost six months between book reviews—I hadn’t posted anything this year. I may as well have just shut down my blog altogether.

Happily, the reader’s block has been lifted, at least for now. The fog has cleared, and I’m once more free and able to participate in one of my greatest pleasures: reading.

As a book blogger, I have a bunch of review copies, both in my Kindle and stacked on my desk. To some, plowing through them would seem like a daunting chore. To me, it’s a challenge of love. I want to read and review them, and finally, I am able.

I’ve always taken reading for granted, all the way back to when I was nine and devouring a Hardy Boys mystery every day. I’ll never take it for granted again.

The reader’s block has been intermittent, retreating and attacking over the past three years. This past bout was the longest and worst yet. I’m hoping it’s been vanquished once and for all. In the meantime, I plan to spend my free time with my nose in a book (or staring at my Kindle screen).

Reading has always been my friend. Girlfriends have come and gone, and I’ve had close friends leave my life so thoroughly that I can neither recall their names nor visualize their faces. But books have been steady companions. Sometimes, I’ll see a title somewhere in my blog or on Goodreads, and I won’t remember what the book is about. Once I read the first few sentences of the review, the whole story comes back to me, as rich and real as it was the first time. My real-life memory should be so acute.

I guess this is just a paean to my love of reading, and my lament that it left me for so long. Be the Gods of Literacy willing, this will never happen again.

I’ve also neglected both of my blogs. With the lack of focus came the inability to write anything longer than a lame-ass Facebook status, or the occasional pithy comment. I promise I’ll use some of this renewed focus to do more than drabble out some nonsense every few months. I used to be a reasonably good blogger—at least, I was reasonably frequent. Lately, I’ve had nothing. Here’s hoping that, too, can change going forward.

Anyway. Thanks for taking the time to read this. And thanks for your patience. I plan to be back doing what I love to do, and doing it anon. Happy Wednesday.

Monday Night Mental Smoked Almonds, er, um, I mean “Mental Chex Mix”

Posted in mental chex mix on January 5, 2015 by tom

*- You’ll have to forgive me for the title error, but I’m up to my ass in smokehouse almonds.

*- Okay, not literally. I can’t imagine there’s a smokehouse somewhere with almonds up to my standard ass level, and that I’m standing there, typing this on some sort of TV tray.

*- You see, as I mentioned in my previous post, I’m largely giving up carbs for 2015. This doesn’t mean I’m giving up carbs like “broccoli” or other vegetables, just good carbs like “bread,” “pie,” and “Pringles.”

*- So I went to the store tonight to buy almonds

NOT cookies :-(

NOT cookies :-(

*- It was a full moon outside.

*- This has nothing to do with the almonds, but it sets up something about the moon, so bear with me.

*- At a nudist resort, I wonder if they have signs that say “Bare With Me.”

*- Anyway, as I sat at a green light, enjoying the chirping crickets and angry horns, I looked at the moon, and decided it would be from New England. It just has that combination of rough Southie and super-rich Cape Cod, all rolled up into a sphere, like God let a very young Jesus mess around with a huge ball of white Play-Doh.

*- “Look, Dad! Look what I made!” “Well, Son, that’s awesome! Since we don’t have a refrigerator, let me hang it in the sky so everyone can see it.”

*- Okay, I doubt that’s what really happened, but it’s a hell…uh, a heck of an image.

*- So anyway, the moon comes from New England, so what about the sun? Definitely the entire Rust Belt put that big hot sonofabitch together. It was smelted and resmelted, and re-re-resmelted, so it was huge and very hot.

*- Then the Rust Belt observed that their Sun should be hung in the sky with the moon, just because of all the hard work, and the unions, and–

*- I apologize. I digressed even for me. The easiest way to be dis-created would be to come up with a new creation myth involving a toddler Jesus and the American steel industry.

*- So the moon was full and beautiful tonight when I had my New England epiphany.

*- Then I went to the store to buy new almonds, big American smokehouse almonds grown in???? New England!! Who knew?? What an unlikely coincidence!

*- Yeah. The almonds didn’t really come from New England. I’m sure they have smokehouses in New England, but not almonds.

*- The almonds came from California, which has a lot of sunlight, although I don’t think they smelt enough there to make the Sun.

*- As it turns out, though, the Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds “1 lb Value Pack” was right above the shelf containing Pringles. PRINGLES!! My carb-laden archnemesis.

*- Pringles, if you recall from either advertising or smoking lots of weed in college, are potato crisps that are preserved–neatly stacked–in a canister, not a bag. This ensures the Pringles’ structural integrity, meaning they don’t get all smooshed and crumbled in transit.

*- Pringles were designed by a stoner at MIT, which is in? Yes! New England!

*- Okay, I don’t really know this, but it would make sense.

*- So, having the willpower of an ice-cube on a desert highway, I reached for the first canister of Pringles I saw, and prepared to make my hasty escape, before my body realized my weak spirit was cheating (or potentiating cheating).

*- I’ll be damned if every single can of Pringles was crushed in on one side. Just what MIT and years of advertising promised wouldn’t happen had happened: the mighty Pringles were crumbs. I shook a can, and it sounded like maracas. Not good.

*- And it wasn’t just the original flavor Pringles–my favorite. Sour Cream & Onion, BBQ, Nacho Cheese, Cheddar Cheese, Pizza, Birthday Cake–all of the flavors were crushed in on one side.

*- nb: There is not, to my knowledge, a “Birthday Cake” flavor of Pringles. If they invent one, it would probably be gross, but they could send me a couple cases for the idea. When I was in my college daze, God knows I ate worse to stave off the munchies.

*- My Jenny and I once ate an entire carrot cake without cooking it. We kept tasting the batter, and it was so good, that we said, “Fuck it,” grabbed two big spoons, watched some movie on Showtime, and ate an entire bowl of cake batter.

*- My Jenny weighed about 99 lbs. I was about 2.5 Jennys, if a Jenny is a unit of measurement.

*- So anyway, that was a carrot cake, not a birthday cake.

*- Oh, shit!! I couldn’t have Chex Mix anyway, since it’s just swarming with bad carbohydrates, although there are now gluten-free Corn Chex.

*- EVERY FLAVOR OF PRINGLES WAS DESTROYED!!

*- It’s like The Universe was telling me to take my almonds, go buy some string cheese, and get out of that dangerous carb-loaded hell before something bad happened, like I bought Sno-Balls or something.

*- They had jalapeno string cheese, which I counted as my reward for avoiding Combos, Cheetos, Wheat Thins, or any other high-carb cheating snack.

*- I don’t know where the jalapeno string cheese comes from. Presumably someplace where stringy cows give stringy milk, into which they mix stringy jalapenos.

*- So as I carried my meager, mostly unexciting purchases up to the counter,  remembered the moon, and how it reminds me of New England.

*- The checkout lady, God love her, looked exactly like Mrs. Landingham from “The West Wing,” and Mrs. Landingham was from New England! Perfect!

*- Except that Mrs. Landingham was killed in a car crash at the end of Season Two, so it would have to have been her sister or a cousin.

*- When I finally got up to the register–sure as hell–Mrs. Landingham’s Boston cousin asked me, “Do ya have a rewahds cahd, deah?” Just as Boston as the Red Sox or Joe Kennedy’s mob money stash.

*- I swiped my “cahd,” wished her a good night, and walked outside the Carb-O-Rama (BERNIE CARBO!! HERO OF THE 1975 BOSTON RED SOX!!)

*- It was a clear night here in the SRQ, with a soupcon of chill in the air. And above the deserted parking lot, hung a moon, no doubt crafted in New England by Mrs. Landingham’s ancient forebears, neither from green cheese nor Divine Play-Doh, but carefully smelted together from jalapeno string cheese and crushed Pringles crumbs.

*- Happy Tuesday

Focus: 2014 to 2015

Posted in Uncategorized on December 30, 2014 by tom

It’s the end of another year, and bloggers everywhere are writing their “2014 Year in Review” posts, or “What I’m Fitna Do in 2015″ posts. Most of theirs will be better than mine.

One big goal for 2015 is to stop neglecting this blog. I have my book blog, and–while I haven’t read that much this year–I’ve kept up with that better than this one. I feel bad for this blog. Seriously. It has provided so much fun and support–and some awesome readers–going back to the good old Vox days. I started this thing in 2007, and really started taking it seriously that year when I was literally almost dead in the hospital. I miss this blog; I miss having snark, or making batches of Mental Chex Mix.

The fact is, my brain’s been broken for the past couple years, so I haven’t had much game, writing-wise, especially purveying quality snark.

So one good thing that’s happened in 2014 is that my brain has healed for the most part. I’m bored, quite honestly. Boredom is a good thing, for it means I need more stimulation. I’ve volunteered at a couple places, and I wish there were more hours available, just to keep me busier. I still take a goodly number of meds, but Dr. Ricardo Montalban and I seem to have hit the winning combination.

Okay, my psychiatrist isn’t really Ricardo Montalban. This is fortunate, for the State of Florida requires all practicing physicians to have medical training and a valid medical license. Also, physicians must have a pulse. God rest him, the actual Ricardo Montalban sailed off to his own Fantasy Island nearly six years ago.

RicardoMontalban_FantasyIsland

Suave as hell, but not a psychiatrist.

Nonetheless, I’m sure he would have been an excellent psychiatrist.

No, my actual -iatrist (as opposed to the -ologist) sounds exactly like Ricardo Montalban, which is amazingly reassuring, especially when he’s writing large Valium prescriptions for me.

So Doctor not-Montalban and I have done good work the past nearly three years since my mind blew up, and I’m finally feeling bored, like I’m ready to move back into my life.

Last time I saw him, incidentally, I was having trouble maintaining focus on tasks. This was in October. He promised that the focus would come back on its own, and that I’d be as good as new focus-wise, sort of like after the astronauts fixed the Hubble, and it went from being fuzzy to clear:

Pre-repair  Hubble Image

Pre-repair Hubble Image

Hubble Image Post-Repair

Hubble Image Post-Repair

Sorry. I lost focus and got silly for a moment.

Anyway, in November, I participated in NaNoWriMo, where one is compelled to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I passed 50K in twenty days, and finished my 54,000 word manuscript in twenty-four.

That was a wee dram of focus, as one of Darby Karchut’s Irish characters would say (nb: I don’t think focus is measured in drams, but it seems as good as any other unit of measure (I refuse to consider a cubit, deciliter, or dodecahedron as a unit of character (especially since a dodecahedron isn’t even a unit of measurement, but a geometric construct (you could presumably have a dodecahedron measuring one cubit in diameter, or perhaps a dram of dodecahedrons (holy shit, I’ve lost my original point somewhere in a mire of nested parentheticals (good thing I’m a master of nested parentheticals, or I could be lost in here forever (maybe the Hubble would have to be used to find me (okay, this silliness has gone on long enough, so I must attempt my nested parenthetical dismount (here goes nothing))))))))).

Whew. I stuck the dismount. Here it is again in slow motion, just in case you missed it: )  )  )  )  )  )  )  )  )

So I finished this 54,000 word manuscript, revised the piss out of it as much as possible (not that there was any actual piss in it), and submitted it to a publisher during an open submissions period. This is where they accept manuscripts from those of us poor souls who have no agents. Happily, my manuscript made it past round one without being voted off the island. And yes, I meant it that way: my manuscript was happy not to have been willed to the cornfield, where its existence would remain uncertain. The novel has taken on a life of its own, and it wants to take over the world, in its own insidious way.

I swear to you. I was just a pawn, no more responsible for its creation than was John Hurt in “Alien” when the alien crawled out of his abdomen.

Then again, to be perfectly honest, I can’t actually remember the original “Alien.” I’m sure I saw it, but I’m also sure I was really zorched on something, it having been during my college daze. I do know that something crawled out of his abdomen in “Spaceballs,” so that’s what I’m going with.

Anyway, where was I.

Ah. So, the novel made it to round two, where it joins a bunch of other novels to be poked, prodded, biopsied, hammered with mallets (hammered with mullets too, for that matter), and otherwise evaluated by a large group of readers. If they like it, it goes on to Final Jeopardy, or whatever it’s called.

Anyway again, where was I.

Ah! 2014.

So my brain focus issue seems to have been repaired, since there’s no way I could’ve written 50,000+ words about a single, non-Casablanca subject without having laseresque focusing ability.

Also in 2014, I quit smoking (finally), and I lost a lot of weight (also finally). Which brings us to 2015…

I’m not one for making huge lists of New Year’s Resolutions ™ (I mean, if “Happy Birthday to You” is copyrighted, I’m sure somebody owns “New Year’s Resolutions, LLC”). Typically, I resolve to do things I already don’t do. For example, I’ll resolve to quit participating in Iron Man triathlons, eating raw yams, and shooting heroin between my toes. That sort of thing.

For 2015, there are actually a few things I want to do.

First off, continue to lose weight. I shall do this by eliminating unnecessary carbs from my diet, and exercising.

Oh! I got a Fitbit Surge Wrist Alien for Christmas. This is basically a prisoner tracking device you wear, and it scolds you for insufficient walking, eating too much, sleeping for shit, or not drinking enough gin. I mean water. (Sorry. I lost focus momentarily) One thing that got me through NaNoWriMo was all the bar graphs, pie charts, and statistical data available on my dashboard. I mean, there it was, staring me in the face every afternoon when I sat down to write, so I had my target to shoot for every day, lest I incur the wrath of the pie charts.

The irony of the Fitbit’s pie charts is that I won’t be able to eat actual pie if I want the pie chart to look ever in my favor. Truth be told–and who ever prevaricates in their blog?–I don’t ever seek out pie. HOWEVER, if there’s a pie in the house, I feel it’s my responsibility to remove as much temptation as possible from my home’s other residents. It’s a family service kind of thing, this pie eating.

Second, I need to find a new job. This working from home/running my own crappy internet business thing isn’t working, so it’s time to go work for somebody else. I’ve worked for somebodys else since I was fourteen, so this shouldn’t be an issue, provided I can find a good job opportunity and slam-dunk the interview.

Third, I need to buy pants that fit, before I actually attend a job interview. My current ones could fit me and an Olsen twin inside them. (This would look odd, and make walking in a reasonably non-drunken-looking state nigh on impossible (slam-dunking an interview with an Olsen twin in your pants is definitely out, though probably entertaining for the interviewer and me alike))

Fourth, more exercise. I know this falls as a codicil to “First off,” but I need to walk more. Meaning outside walking, not just walking to the fridge and back. The Fitbit Wrist Alien insists upon this additional activity, so I may find myself powerless to resist, lest it smite me. (Fear of smiting is a great motivator for me)

Fifth, read more books, and write more reviews. In 2013, I read over 160 books–not Kelly-level at all, but still pretty good. I read books, posted reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, my book and movie blog (booksandmoviesandcrap.com). Some reviews even made their way on to various bathroom walls, but only high-falutin bathrooms, like the ones at movie theaters and Sunoco stations. This year? I’ve maybe read thirty books, if that. Not good.

Sixth, write more in here, Dispatches from The Tom Zone. I need to use my acerbicity (and make up new words), and essentially try to make my writing sharp again. It’s been a long time since I blogged with any frequency, and 2014 was pathetic. I shall endeavor to be more attentive to the blog, as well as my tens of readers.

Seventh, I will try to stop ripping off Kelly (i.e., “…my tens of readers”). This is because it’s not right to copy from Kelly. It’s also because Kelly would either kneecap me or machete me if I piss her off too bad.

Kelly's Machete

Kelly’s Machete

 

So that’s it, basically. That’s my brief 2014 recap (vs. kneecap), and my plan for 2015. Thanks for bearing with me all these relatively dark and silent months. I hope we’ll have more fun next year.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve–remember, it’s Amateur Night on the roads–and that your 2015 contains all the best things in The Universe (including pie–you can have my share). Happy New Year.

Oh. One more resolution:

Number Eight, know when to wrap up a blog post.

And that time is now.

 

 

A Halloween Reply to My Friend Kara

Posted in Ramblings, Uncategorized on October 31, 2014 by tom
Kara: Like an Oreo, our beginning and our end is a sure thing. It’s all the crap in the middle that trips us up.
You got that right, Muggle. That’s where all the great and terrible things happen.
Most things that happen, though, are routine and mundane, safe, not dangerous.
Mr. Ollivander in the first Harry Potter novel was talking about Voldemort. “He has done some great things. Terrible, but great.”
I bet most days, Voldemort doesn’t do bad stuff
He probably wakes up, shaves whatever parts of his face grow hair, if any, takes a shower, and puts on his robes.
I bet he makes breakfast, or maybe has a minion-maid cook it for him, then reads The Daily Prophet, and probably the Daily Mail or The Guardian, just for muggle-based amusement.
Maybe he has a squash court in his mansion, and he has friend/minions over to play. Maybe he drinks a few beers after. Maybe there’s a Death Eater Country Club, and he’ll go play 18 holes before having a club sandwich and a Sapphire and soda for lunch.
Maybe Voldemort doesn’t fly everywhere. Maybe he has a Lamborghini Countach he runs up to 175 on the freeway home.
Maybe being evil is just a part-time thing for him, or a work-from-home business.
You can’t tell me the guy does evil stuff 24/7/365. I mean, even with horcruxes, you’d wear yourself out.
But all Harry Potter seems to do is scheme and plot against Voldemort. I’m not defending Voldemort, of course–the guy is evil, as we know. I just think he lives a normal life, puts in a few hours of work being evil, and kicks Lucius Malfoy’s ass in chess during the afternoons.
Voldemort is like the owner of Evil.
He delegates most tasks to his underlings, and saves the really big stuff for himself. I mean, he wasn’t at the big Death Eater rally at the Quidditch World Cup.
Granted, he was too weak at the time, but the job got done, and the non-Death Eaters were scared out of their wits.
Once he got his body back, he could’ve killed Harry Potter any time he wanted. Potter’s walking to Hogsmeade on a Saturday afternoon, Voldemort swoops in, and BLAM. Before you can say “EXPELLIARMUS,” Harry Potter is dead.
He wouldn’t have bothered with Ron Weasley, but Hermione–being a mudblood (pardon my vernacular)–would be toasted.
Then Voldemort could fly back to the Death Eaters Golf & Country Club in time for his eleven o’clock tee time
I think we’re not our true selves every minute of every day, no matter how much it seems like we are.
When I start National Novel Writing Month tomorrow, I’ll be somewhere other than where I usually would be–killing time..reading a book, or something else.
I don’t know who or what I really am, sometimes, but I know what’s real and what’s unreal in my soul.
I don’t always listen, of course, just like Voldemort should’ve smited Harry Potter long before their ultimate showdown–let’s face it; Harry Potter is an idiot without Hermione.
And what does Hermione think? “Oh, for the love of God! What’s WRONG with these idiots? Why am I dragging them through Hogwartts? Why can’t they do their own homework, and get O’s like I do??”
And why doesn’t she help Seamus Finnegan, and the other Gryffindors? Only Potter and Weasley.
What’s inside Hermione’s soul? Inside her heart?
She didn’t always like Ron Weasley. I don’t know when that started, but she was definitely a little hooked by Goblet of Fire, and positively homicidal by Half-Blood Prince.
How did she put up with Harry’s whining in Order of the Phoenix? How did anyone? Did it ever occur to anyone that Harry Potter–while being “The Boy Who Lived”–was a simpering twat?
The kid couldn’t do anything without people helping him. What if he’d failed in the end? He nearly did. He died, until Dumbledore sent him back.
All those people would have died for nothing. And if Voldemort ruled over all the wizarding world, why would anyone have to worry? They’d be fine, as long as they toed the line.
Germany was fine under Hitler until he started WW2 in 1938 (Unless you were Jewish, of course). Well, except for the SS & Gestapo occasionally screwing around with families, sort of like Death Eaters.
Hitler created jobs, got the economy moving, stamped out hunger, reinstated a sense of pride–he did great things.
But, like Ollivander said, “Terrible, but great.” That’s how he turned out.
It’s no secret that the Harry Potter books so closely resemble the Nazis rise to power.
And Mudbloods would be the equivalent of Jews in Hitler’s Germany. If you were even part-Jewish, you were looked down upon. It’s like in Potterland: if you were pure-blood magic, you were fine. If you were half-blood, you were suspect. If you were a mudblood, God help you, for you’d be persecuted by the Malfoys, Crabbes, and Goyles of the magic world. You could try to fight back, but they’d have you outnumbered, and you couldn’t stand a chance.
And thus, I have to write a novel in November. Writing starts on November first, which is 142 minutes from now. I spent my entire Friday creating an outline, chapter by chapter, fleshing out characters, doing all the prepwork, the equivalent of dicing the celery and mincing the onions before you cook stuff.
It will be about a high school girl who summons a vengeance demon, who just happens to be her next-door neighbor and BFF’s dad.
He wreaks vengeance on people who do her wrong, smites a kid, then she pushes things a little too far, and she gets the vengeance hammer herself.
I have it all sketched out. Now all I have to do is write 50,000 words in November, and I’ll be set.
If I apply myself, I can do it in way less time than that–or write more, if it needs it–but it’s still 1667 words a day for thirty days. For non-fiction (or long, rambling PM’s ) that’s nothing.
For writing original fiction, that’s a bit more daunting.
I’ve written a bunch of stuff centered around Casablanca on my blog, and that was fun to do. I could probably write 50,000 words about my Casablanca (which overlaps the film, of course) with relative ease.
Creating something new out of whole cloth…that will be scary.
But I’ll wake up, make a pot of coffee, pop a nicotine lozenge in my mouth, and sit down at my workspace (my b/w cover photo is my workspace), and at least stare at the big monitor.
Oh, I quit smoking. Ergo, the nicotine lozenge. A few of those a day, and I’m good.
And thus, I shall join millions of people all over the world, all trying to write a novel in November.
Each of us is different–different lives, jobs, different religions and customs, different souls–but for a few hours a day, we’ll all be doing the same thing.
Banging out words that probably nobody will ever read.
If you ever read this far, God bless you. I know you’re tired as hell, and sore, and probably drained from Hallowe’en.
I don’t know why I went off on a tangent like that. Oh. The Oreo analogy you made: We’re born, and we die. All the rest of the shit that happens is the cream smooshed in between.
That, and I was just wondering what Voldemort would’ve gone as for Halloween.
Love you, Muggle,
t
(PS: This is my 950th post in Dispatches from The Tom Zone. Thanks for reading, both the good ones and the crap. Just…thanks)
Aviary Photo_130591974372122504

Back to Casablanca: Chapter Six

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on September 14, 2014 by tom

Chapter Six

Chantal van Cleve was a knockout in her blue gown, cut low in the back. A sapphire sparkled at her throat. Hans wore a hand-tailored beige suit, and carried a trumpet case.

“Honey? Do you have to bring that everywhere we go?” Chantal asked. “I mean, you take it to the restroom when we go out.”

“I can’t lose her. She’s my angel, and you’re my muse,” he replied. “God forbid I lose either of you, and I can’t take you to the restroom with me.” He smiled white-toothedly.

They heard Rick’s before they saw it. The band was swinging, and there were people mingling outside, waiting to get a table. Hans and Chantal looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Hans shrugged, and they walked up to the door, which was guarded by two giant Moroccans wearing fezzes, with swords by each man’s side.

“Good evening, sir. Madam.”

“Good evening,” Hans replied. “We were hoping to get a table?”

“Name?”

“Van Cleve.”

“Ah, yes. Signor Ferrari has reserved a table for you. Please follow me.”

Hans looked down at his wife. “Signor Ferrari? Who is—“

“—long story, hon. Wait till we get seated.”

The towering host, Abdul, seated the couple at a perfect table for people-watching. Hans pulled out $25 Vichy Francs as a tip. Abdul refused, as the band took a break.

“Signor Ferrari has taken care of it, but thank you. Your waiter will be right over.”

Across the club, a man in a white coat and black bowtie was playing chess with a small, odd-looking girl. The girl was reading Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” then making her moves quickly after the man finished pondering the board and making his move.

At the bar, a woman dressed quite a bit more suggestively than the rest of the clientele glared daggers at the man in the white coat. She was obviously pissed, both in the American and British connotations of the word (angry and drunk, respectively). The bartender was talking her up, but she ignored him, except when she ordered another drink—demanded was more like it. “Sascha, fill it up,” they could hear through the smoky air.

The main door to their right opened, and three Nazis in full dress uniforms entered. They were immediately escorted to a somewhat private area where other Germans had congregated.

“Dammit!” The man in the white jacket exclaimed, pounding the table. “I always forget about your trick with the rook. Here.”

He tossed $150 Vichy Francs on the chessboard, and got up to wander the club. A blind man was riffing softly on piano. The man patted his shoulder as he walked by.

The man in the white jacket noticed Chantal and Hans and walked over to their table.

“Welcome to Rick’s Café Americain. I’m Rick,” he introduced himself. “And you’re Hans and Chantal van Cleve, right?” Rick sat down.

“How did you know who we are?” Hans asked.

Rick smiled, lighting a Chesterfield. “Ferrari told me about ‘Rossa’s adventures in your house today—she’s a total nut, and keeps crawling under my tables when she gets wasted, but she’s best friends with Annie the Soapmaker, and she adds a little color to the place, wearing nothing by silk harem pants and tops. Anyway, Ferrari asked me to show you a good time on his bill.” Rick took a drag off his cigarette, then looked up suddenly, “Emile? A bottle of the Verve-Cliquot ’26 for the van Cleves, please.”

“Louis, the Prefect of Police here, swears by this wine. I’m a bourbon man, myself.” He ashed his cigarette. “I haven’t heard you play since 1937 in Berlin. You were with the Genesee Quartet. Damn, you can play. I see your horn case there. Do you mind sitting in later?”

Hans was taken aback. “No. I would be happy to.”

“I’ll tell Ray you’re here,” Rick said. “Ah. Your Champagne. Welcome, and I hope to see you here frequently. I have a drunk floozy to remove, and a room full of Nazis to keep drunk and calm. Jesus, when they get riled up about Hitler, it’ll drive you nuts. Enjoy your stay. I’ll check back with you later.”

“He seems nice enough,” Chantal said. Hans nodded. He swore he saw a casino through one door that another Moroccan giant was guarding. Some club patrons tried to get in, but there pleas were rebuffed, and they were sent away. Others were bowed through the door pro forma.

“I’ve seen some strange clubs, my darling, but this is one of the strangest. A cove full of Nazis, some tiny chess master girl, the owner dragging a drunk floozy out of the club by her arm, a secret casino, and—shit qaddis—that’s Charles Ray on piano!”

“Hans? `Shit qaddis’?” Chantal asked, sipping her wine.

“Oh. It’s Maltese for `holy shit.’ You know, Maltese, like in the movie?”

‘I don’t want to know how you know this.” She rolled her eyes, as Emile the waiter poured her another glass of wine. She tapped down a cigarette and lit it, blowing a small plume of smoke into the face of a small bug-eyed man.

He coughed briefly, took a sip of his brandy, and sat down, cough-free.

“Good evening. I see this is your first time at Rick’s, yes?”

“Yes. And you are…”

“I apologize. My name is Ugarte.”

Hans reached across and shook Ugarte’s sweaty hand.

“My name is Hans van Cleve, and this is my wife, Chantal.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir and madam.” Ugarte looked all around him, as if his head could swivel 360 degrees. His voice grew quieter, and everyone had to lean forward to hear what the odd little man was saying. They leaned so far forward, in fact, that Ugarte’s sleeve caught fire in the candle. Hans instantly dumped his glass on the fire, but there were only two drops left in it, so Ugarte’s right arm was still going up in flames. All at once, a large splash of water put out Ugarte’s fire, and—perhaps more importantly—soaked him to the bone in ice water.

The source of the splash was Annie the Soapmaker, alertly dumping the champagne ice bucket on the fire.

“Gorrammit, Ugarte,” she scolded. “Can’t you even try to sell exit visas without setting the joint on fire?”

Signor Ugarte stood up, bowed to Mr. and Mrs. Van Cleve, and took his leave. Annie the Soapmaker and Testarossa Ferrari sat down.

“Hans? This is Annie the Soapmaker, and this is ‘Rossa, who did the lovely flower arrangement you mentioned.”

“Oh, yes! That is really beautiful! How did you learn to do that?”

“Meh. You just bite off the parts that don’t look right, then you have it. Et voila!”

“As you can see, ‘Rossa has very little verbal filtering ability.”

Annie the Soapmaker reached into a backpack beneath the table. She smiled evilly.

“Since I had to spill your champagne, what do you say we beta-test my newest concoction, called Europa.”

Hans raised an eyebrow. “But we just left Europa, so—“

“—oh, no. This is another Europa. One of Jupiter’s moons, which is where this bottle should take us.”

Chantal—having heard about acid & peyote, and seeing exploding soap bricks—was suddenly worried. “Um…”

“EMILE! Four glasses, please.” Annie the Soapmaker uncorked the bottle, and Chantal swore she saw a wisp of green smoke come out.

“Don’t worry, Chantal,” said Annie the Soapmaker. “I promise. You’ll love it.”

She winked, and the whole thing began.

Back to Casablanca: Chapter Five

Posted in Back to Casablanca, Bad Pulp Fiction on September 10, 2014 by tom

Chapter 5

The giant door knocker echoed through a large stone house in Casablanca. The house was just like the two houses that adjoined it, airy with arched walls, and windows looking out over a lush courtyard with a burbling fountain.

“I’ll get it,” shouted a beautiful, tall, brown-eyed woman in a silk kimono. Her name was Chantal van Cleve; her husband, Hans van Cleve, was typing in another room. Hans was deaf as shit from playing jazz trumpet the past twenty years back in their native Amsterdam, so he really didn’t hear the door knock or his wife shouting.

Chantal opened the door to find herself looking down at a slightly shorter, intense looking woman with sharp blue eyes. With her was a rather spacey-looking, tanned, barefooted girl, holding a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The girl seemed to float into the house, leaving both of the other women a bit flummoxed.

“Excuse me,” said the blue-eyed woman, still standing on the doorstep. “’Rossa? What have we discussed about going into other people’s houses without being invited?”

“That they could be fucking?” Rossa replied. “OH! And it’s not polite!” She smiled. “ESPECIALLY if they’re fucking.”

The smaller woman shook her head.

“I have to apologize for ‘Rossa. She ate a whole shitload of peyote last night, thinking it was some kind of cookie. She still hasn’t come down yet.” She paused. “To be honest, she’s a little spacey, even at full power, but she’s the best pickpocket in all of Casablanca, so she’s got some mad skills there.”

The woman held out her hand. “My name is Annie, and I’m a Soapmaker. I saw you moved in, and I wanted to bring you these.” She handed over a lovely gift basket with eight beautifully wrapped bars of soap, and a ninth bar that was unwrapped.

“Frakkin ‘Rossa,” Annie muttered to herself. “She almost had the basket right.”

“It looks really pretty to me, and I’m really grateful—“

Annie the Soapmaker turned and threw the ninth bar over the fountain. When it landed, it exploded.

“Holy SHIT!!” exclaimed Chantal.

“Hon?” Hans called from the other room. “I think there’s somebody at the door.”

“Don’t worry,” Annie reassured Chantal. “It keeps the solicitors away. Anyway, we live next door—my husband, daughter and me. Testarossa Ferrari’s dad is leader of all criminal activity in Casablanca, and she lives in that huge house next to The Blue Parrot. That’s the bar where he does most of his dealings, so if you ever need anyone `disappeared,’ or whatever, he’s the man to see. He’s fat, wears a white suit, and looks like Sidney Greenstreet in `The Maltese Falcon, if you ever saw that.”

“We did, back in Amsterdam,” Chantal replied. “Thank you for your present. These soaps smell fantastic.” She paused. “How rude of me. My name is Chantal van Cleve. My husband, Hans, is typing in the other room.”

“’Rossa? That’s a hookah, not a flower vase, but good try.”

Chantal laughed, and floated off to the kitchen to get a vase. She returned shortly, and ‘Rossa began arranging the flowers. Then rearranging them. Then re-re-arranging them, smiling all the while.

“Holy God, I have to hide my peyote better,” Annie the Soapmaker mused.

“You sell drugs??”

“Not exactly. I experiment with making different substances. Some of them…well, they involve less savory elements. Which reminds me, do you have any hypochlorous acid I could borrow?”

“Some…”

“Hypochlorous acid? I’m working on a new beverage, but I’m out of hypochlorous acid, and now I’m out of peyote. Dammit. Oh, well. The people near my lab tent are throwing a big, obnoxious shindig, and they are pissing me off. Thus? It’ll just be those little bricks that explode. ‘Rossa and my five-year-old love throwing those. Welcome to the courtyard. We’re on the right outside your front door. The house to your left in the courtyard is my assistant, Hermione, and her girlfriend, Lisbeth. They’re both geniuses. Be forewarned: Hermione will talk your ears off. Lisbeth probably won’t talk to you for a year, but she’ll play chess with you anytime. And don’t forget about Rick’s! We’ll see you there tonight.”

‘Rossa glided back in from the kitchen, carrying the vase. “Because, Mrs. van Cleve, everyone comes to Rick’s.” The two women left.

On the round living-room table stood the most-beautiful floral arrangement Chantal had ever seen. Apparently, she thought to herself, ‘Rossa did have some mad skills.

Chantal walked upstairs to choose an outfit for her first night at Rick’s.

The Damnable Joys of Manic-Depression

Posted in Chronicles of chrazy (sic) on August 10, 2014 by tom

There are different words today, different terms in the nomenclature: bi-polar disorder; bi-polar one; bi-polar two; bi-polar with caramel drizzle, you name it.

For me, it’s just been three years of soul-rending manic depression–that’s how it feels to me, so fuck the nomenclature. There’s mania, and there’s depression, and neither are pleasant.

Mania can almost be fun. Life is fast and furious, like Mrs. Howell after she ate the radioactive sugar beets on that Gilligan’s Island episode: she was running around with the film sped up to about eight-times normal. It was comedy.

The manic phase of the disorder is like driving downhill on a winding road. It’s fun for awhile, but soon, you wish for a straightaway, or for the road to level out, so you’re just not so unstoppably jittery. It’s like running and running and running, and you want to stop, but you have to keep running and running.

There’s a poem–I think it’s e.e. cummings–and that’s basically it: “running, running, fast, oh, fast.”

You can’t stop. You can’t sleep. You can’t shut off your mind. Your thoughts come so fast and furious, you can’t possibly consider them all, profundities and inanities contrapuntal. I’ve been up for three straight manic days before, driving when I was too amped to be driving, but there was nothing else to do. So I’d drive from St Pete to Sarasota or vice versa just for lunch. It’s a miracle I wasn’t killed, although the idea of dying wasn’t necessarily averse then, just so I could stop. Fucking. Running.

So you’re running or driving, and everything has a glow, a shimmer about it–but it’s too much of a glow or shimmer, something akin to glare, like looking at the Sun two hours before sunset as opposed to two minutes before sunset. Nothing mellow about it. And your skin vibrates. Not literally–most of the time, although I got tingles and twitches–but you feel electric charges running up and down your body.

Then you run–or drive into–the wall.

The wall is depression. You hit that, and your remains slide inexorably down into a pit, into The Abyss, as I’ve often called it. Your lowest point gets on a downward elevator, and you can’t stop. You don’t know how far down you’ve gone, or how far down you’re going to go. Only that it’s a dark place, and it’s claustrophobic as shit, and you just want to curl up in a ball and die. You want the darkness to go away, some how, some way–any way.

This is the part where you curl up in a ball, where you stay in bed for days at a time, if you can. I could. I’d order in food and take care of the cat, but the rest of the time, I was just trying to think of something positive in my life, some reason not to just give up. Suicide was never an option–I’m far too much of a coward to try that–but I’ve tried to eat and drink myself to death. I’m now losing a lot of weight, and I’ve been sober nine years and change, so those failed. This is the part of the disease where I thank God for the Internet, so I can spend my gray hours gazing unfocusedly at stale JFK Conspiracy or Hitler docs, or watch some movie I like okay but have seen a dozen times (Double Indemnity, e.g.).

The Internet is a double-edged sword, though. In addition to my black-and-white world, I might end up on Facebook, and see my friends or family and their perfect, brightly colored lives. “Had a great time cooking out by the pool with the kids! Can’t believe how BIG they’ve gotten!!!!!”

Their lives are exclamation point lives, full of promise and awesomeness. Where would my life be in the world of punctuation? Ellipses? “Tom was in radio, had his station changed so he was unemployed, then he tried another job, and now he’s depressed and doing nothing…” Maybe a dash would be more optimistic: “Tom had some bad stuff happen–and his head blew up for awhile–” That implies a resolution, a “but NOW Tom is doing ____”.

For nearly three years, I’ve been seeing one of the foremost psychologists in the field of depressive illnesses. We’ve been through more bottles of more pills that Big Pharma should buy us both Porsches.

We’re to a point now where the mania still happens, but it’s not as bad, nor does the Abyss seem as deep.

Don’t get me wrong–they both still suck ass–but there’s improvement. Also, when I’m between the two, I might have a normal day or two. I don’t even know what to do with a normal day.

Finally, I can sense when I’m slipping from one to the other, and I feel like I have the tools to protect myself. If depression is coming on, I’m not going to agree to go to somebody’s house where there are small children, for example. If mania is coming on, that might not be so bad.

Naturally, since my brain was starting to heal, something bad happened in my left upper leg. Nobody has been able to tell me what it is. I’ve had prescriptions, enough x-rays to  fuel a quasar, and just finished my fifth of six weeks of physical therapy. I now have an appointment with a new Orthopedist, whom my mother says is awesome. She’s a nurse she knows things. I got a scrip for Tramadol from my GP in St Pete on our “farewell, and let’s check your bloodwork” visit. I told him the problem. He wrote me for Tramadol twice a day with a refill. Okay. I don’t really take pain pills unless I’m in pain, so that was fine. Until one night when GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY, it felt like somebody had cut into my left thigh with a chainsaw, and did it again and again. I grabbed my Tramadol bottle–trying not to scream the whole time–and thought, “the dose is one, Tom, so–SWEET JESUS, CHEW UP FOUR OF THEM!”

I found that in certain positions, there was incredible pain, while in other positions,  there was nothing. Not a twinge or anything. This has continued for the past seven weeks, and it has gotten better, I admit. (aside: My St Pete GP is very laid back. His labeling instructions were “Take one tablet every eight hours as needed.” New GP? “Take one to two tablets BY MOUTH two to three times a day for serious pain.” (caps mine)).

How else would I take these pill? I’m not going to snort Tramadol. Jeesh.

While I was doing my PT on Friday, I saw these charts on the wall. There, on the right-hand chart, I saw my problem. Nobody had touched me or really asked me many question, but the patient seems to have discovered a problem with his left I-T band. I don’t know what that means, except that it radiates from where mine radiates, then up and down where mine goes up and down.  Poor Blue Cross/Blue Shield is paying  a shitload for something I saw on a chart.

Anyway, earlier this week I was so manic, I wrote 5000 or 6000 words in “Back to Casablanca.” I doubt anyone read them, or even if they make any sense. It was fun to do. Today, I couldn’t even come up with a rude t-shirt for Annie. It’ll come back. I just hope it’s soon: I was having a ball writing those Casablanca mash-ups and creating new people. (Seriously, how often do you get to smoosh together MacBeth, Casablanca, Harry Potter, Annie the Soapmaker (who is indeed real: find her awesome, tom used and endorsed wares here)

Plus some other friends, made-up people, and Brother Ray and ‘Trane, all jammin’ in Casablanca?

I was hurting earlier, so I took a few Tramadol as ordered by my control-freak new doc, and I’m turning into Jell-O.

The two harshest things my psychiatrist told me were A) that I will have issues–cognitive dissonance, et al–which will often require psychotherapy, and B) I will have Manic-Depression all my life. It’s just a matter of finding the right meds and the right behavior tools to control it. I think I’m on my way. I’m getting better sloooooooowly, incrementally.

I’m nowhere near done in my “comeback.”

But now I can sleep. Every damn night

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