The Guilty Party

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Opening Number Three





And Lastly....Number Three

For anyone dropping in unawares, if I could invite you to visit the blog entry titled "Readers' Choice" that would be great!

This is the third and last of the Not Yet Novels in question. It has been through numerous incarnations and is also the one closest to completion (meaning I am maybe halfway through, if I don't change direction on it again).

May I present............................


.

The Baer Boys
by

Alan Hutcheson




Prologue

It's a great speech from what might be the greatest play of all time. And I thought I was doing it pretty darned well. Hell, from where I stood, down stage center in the Angus Bowmer Theatre in Ashland, Oregon, I thought I was nailing it.



To be, or not to be―that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

And by opposing end them?―To die,―to sleep,

No more; and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand...


"Excuse me," A voice came from the dark. It was followed by the flick and snap of paper and a muffled whisper. "Ah, Mr. Baer?"

I shaded my eyes against the harsh white lights. It wasn't much help in seeing the person attached to the voice, but it's kind of a reflex when you're talking to somebody in the house.

"Darin," I said. "Darin Baer."

"Mr. Baer, have you ever made a decision?"

"Excuse me?"

"A decision," said the voice.

"A decision?"

"About something quite important."

"Sure," I said. "I mean, of course I have. Do you want me to start again from the beginning? Or just where I left off?"

"That won't be necessary," said another voice from the dark. "Thank you very much."

"I can put more indecision in it," I said. "Or decision. I can do both. Or either."

"Next."

About two hours and five beers later I made a decision. I decided to go back to college. I was thirty-six years old and had been trying to make a living as an actor for almost twenty years. Six years at Western Oregon University and thirteen part-time jobs later I had my secondary education certificate.

After all, those who can do.

You know the rest.


CHAPTER ONE


I was leaving, practically out the door, when the phone rang. I could have ignored it, just kept going. After all, it really wasn't my phone, not then. But I didn't keep going. I backtracked and picked up the phone.

"Theater room, this is Darin Baer."

"Oh good. I was afraid I might have missed you. Mr. Baer, could I ask you to come to the principal's office please?"

It was a voice that gets a man's attention, the aural equivalent of a finely manicured female fingertip attached to a fine female tracing figure eights on your belly. Yeah, that kind of voice.

In my experience such ravishing tones are most often distributed to women who are from a personal appearance standpoint are strictly made for radio, or, as in this case, the telephone. To be fair, the same can be said for a lot of guys, yours truly being a prime example. I've been told more than once that I can sound more suave than Cary Grant and more disarmingly charming than Hugh Grant, but the bathroom mirror reminds me every day that I'm a skinny guy with lopsided shoulders and eyebrows that for some perverse reason have started to go bushy.

"The principal's office?"

"You will find it just past the counselors' office, at the end of the hallway," said the Voice. "One of the ladies in the front office can direct you."

"I'm on my way."

I didn't need directions to the Westview High principal's office. I had been there before, just not recently. I paid my share of official visits to Principal Sturdevant's office during my career as a student. The person doing the summoning back then was Sturdevant's secretary, Mrs. Crumbkaeuer, a wizened apricot pit of a woman who, according to school lore, was something over one hundred years old and drank a quart of Johnny Walker Black Label each and every day. Her age may have been exaggerated, but, judging by her voice, which was gravelly to the point of boulder-strewn, a couple of fifths and a carton of Camels might have been a closer estimate of her daily vices ration. Or maybe the woman never touched a drop or lit up at all. All I'm saying is it wasn't a fingertip on any body part sort of a voice.

I locked up the theater room and headed for the administration building.

The office was hopping with kids, support staff and a few lost looking parents. I didn't see Mrs. Cahill, the lady who had sped me through check-in that morning, registering my presence so I could get paid the eighty-three dollars and forty-eight cents that is the daily stipend for high school substitute teachers. She had also given me the keys to the theater room. Now nobody said boo as I went past the counters, around a corner and down the hall. I figured The Voice, if she was stationed in the same spot Mrs. Crumbkauer used to stash her scotch, should have her desk in the big open area at the end of the hall, just outside the principal's office.

There was a desk but it was unattended so I couldn't see if my Ravishing Voice/Lumpy Exterior theory held up in this case. But whatever the current secretary looked like, she certainly kept a nice, clean desk. Computer monitor, spotless deskpad, black lucite pen cup with one pen in it, a telephone. I looked for a name plate; every desk in a school office has the occupant's name displayed on or above it. Except this one didn't.

"Is that you, Mr. Baer?" It was The Voice, this time combined with a faint background of music. It took me a second before I realized the voice and music were coming from the phone on the desk. An intercom.

"That's me. I mean, I'm me." I waved at the phone. "I'm here."

"Please, come on in. The door just to your right."

I stepped into the sound of a string quartet and the look of professional success. The walls of the office were covered chair-rail high with deep-toned wood paneling and from paneling to ceiling painted in a greyish-green, with some sort of dimensional treatment to it. Thanks to a short term live-in relationship I had with an ambitiously domestic—hence the short term—female named Rachel, I've seen enough decorating shows on television to know a mysterious technique had been applied, but I hadn't paid enough attention to be able to tell you its name. Along one wall of the office were what I think are called lawyer's bookcases, the kind with beveled glass doors hinged at the top. In the middle of the floor was a plush looking oriental rug and in the middle of the rug was a massive desk with carved detailing. Everything in the office, with one exception, gave off an aura of refined, confident masculinity.

The exception was the woman standing behind the desk. There was nothing even remotely masculine about her.

She had shoulder length chestnut hair and eyes to match, maybe just a shade lighter. A perfect sprinkling of pale freckles—I am partial to freckles nicely done—ran across her cheekbones and nose. She wore a conservative dark blue suit and a crisp, cream colored blouse buttoned to the top, but the Made-for-Business outfit was not able to conceal a damned feminine figure.
She pointed a tiny remote control at one of the bookshelves and the string quartet faded.

"I can't seem to get anything but the classical station," she said. It wasn't an apology, more a statement of fact. She came around from behind the desk and offered her hand. I can't identify perfumes any better than I can paint treatments, but I'll tell you this: she smelled good. "It is nice to meet you, Mr. Baer," she said as we shook hands. "My name is Natalie Willoughby. I am the principal here at Westview." The principal was The Voice. So much for my Rule. She gestured to a chair in front of the desk. "Please, won't you have a seat?"

I sat.

She sat. On the edge of the desk. For about half a minute she seemed to be studying me. I tried to look worth studying. Well, mostly I tried not to stare at her legs.

"Mr. Baer," she finally said. "I want you to know how much I appreciate you helping us out on such short notice."
"I'm a sub," I said. "That's my job. Besides, I live just a few blocks away." I motioned vaguely in what had a one in four chance of being the direction of my home. "I am sorry about missing first period."

"Well, that certainly was not your fault," she said, which was true. Usually I get called for my substitute jobs either the day before or at least a couple of hours before school starts. This morning the call had come just in time for me to make it in by second period. She crossed her legs. Did I mention she had freckles on her knees too? I probably shouldn't have been looking that close, but I was and there they were. "I hope the rest of your day went well?" she said.

"Hmm?" This was not fair. She had asked about my day, right? "Oh, it was great. Just great." Which was, from a substitute teacher's perspective, true. Like the saying pilots have about any landing you can walk away from being a good one, for a substitute teacher any day you make it through with your will to live intact and the inclination to lobby Congress in favor of mass sterilization held in check is a great day.

Opening Number Two






Opening Number Two

If you are wondering what is going on here, please refer back to the blog entry with the heading "Readers' Choice".

Thanks!

This entry is quite a bit longer. If you nod off halfway through, please let me know. For those of you who have read "Close Enough for Government Work", I will tell you that Ted and Jerry, as well as Hank Berringer and a couple of other characters from that book figure into this one.

A PM for Pittiana


by Alan Hutcheson



PROLOGUE





Excerpt from the journal of Thomas Hutchinson

former Royal Governor of Massachusetts Colony


8, June 1775

Plymouth Port


Our party departed on the tide this morning from Plymouth harbor bound for Boston. We number fifty-three, among us eight families and seven single men, all persons of good background and breeding. The news late received through the good offices of the Earl of Chatham makes us bold to return to the land of our birth. His gracious services will long be remembered and his name forever upon our lips.



Excerpt from the journal of William Pitt the Senior

Earl of Chatham, an eloquent, if ineffective

voice for reason in Parliament before and

during the American Revolutionary War



8, June, 1775


I am finally rid of that fool Hutchinson. News comes this morning from Plymouth that the late governor of Massachusetts Colony, along with four dozens or more of his fellow Americans, has taken passage on the good ship Dandelion and is even now bound to Boston.

It weighs on my very soul to contemplate the falseness I have employed; the news, the messages, the correspondence that existed only to convince Hutchinson he was once again welcome, indeed clamored after, in Boston. And yet such remorse is readily bourne away by the thoughts of how intrusive and sycophantic, how insufferably boorish the man made himself this long year of his exile. An exile which brought him, along with countless others calling themselves Loyalists, to an unwelcoming London. Goodness knows he received little reception from either society or government, but he took no notice, and for reasons known only to the Almighty attached himself to me with such unwonted intimacy. I could scarcely pass wind but the man would be there to give praise to its delicate sonority and fragrant air.

Anywise, it soon became clear Hutchinson, in spite of his protestations of devotion to Mother Britain, as he would insist on referring to the place from which his ancestors fled, for reasons one might only hazard to guess, did yearn for the country of his birth, his education, and, to hear him so describe it, his service. And so my bit of deception is not without redeeming character. Once arrived in Boston I pray he may find the fortitude to endure whatever welcome he might find and reintroduce himself and his family into familiar society; it is clear he has no place in London.

The expense of the sea passage has been my own. I have commissioned Captain John Stanley, a mariner of great experience and modest expense, and outfitted the good ship Dandelion in generous fashion for this passage.

May they have a fair voyage and safe.

* * * * *

Six months and five days after its departure from Plymouth, the Dandelion was blown ashore onto an uninhabited island in the Lesser Antilles. The passengers and crew praised Providence for deliverance from the storm and the opportunity to gather provisions before continuing their circuitous journey homeward. They were especially thankful for a safe landing as they had been without the guiding hand of Captain Stanley for most of the journey. The stalwart and economical seafarer tumbled overboard just east of the Azores whilst engaged in a bit of playful chase with sixteen year old Mirabelle Stubbs, daughter of Cincinnatus and Ruth Stubbs. Mirabelle reported the incident only to her diary and so the captain's disappearance remained a mystery to the rest of the passengers and crew.

While Hutchinson and his followers scoured the island seeking provisions, the good ship Dandelion, having been inexpertly anchored, drifted back out to sea. The returning Loyalists had made the Americas, just two thousand miles south of their intended destination.

Without much in the way of ideas, or at least ideas that had any hope of consensus or success, the one thing they were able to agree on, largely because there were no other options, was that it would be best to stay put for the while. The while became quite a while and it was determined that the place required a name. After much debate that included no fewer than seven fist fights and one pistol discharge which killed the fellow wielding the firearm, it was decided to name their new home for their benefactor back in England. The two finalists in the subsequent what-form-shall-the- name-take dialectic were Pittiana and Pittstopia. Pittiana won after the lead Pittstopian advocate was found six days after going missing, in somewhat bloated and discolored form, on the coarse sands of what was later christened Chatham Beach.

Manifest Destiny came to Pittiana several years later in the form of an adjacent and even smaller island to the northwest. It was discovered by Mirabelle Balmoral, nee Stubbs while she was looking for a quiet place to practice her alto recorder. Mirabelle, whose musical inclinations were frowned upon by her husband, restricted her explorations of the island to a small cove with an even smaller beach, perfect for solitary recitals. That is until the day she was followed by Mr. Balmoral, who tried to take her recorder from her with the expressed intention of "turning it into splinters". Mirabelle defended her instrument with a quick and well placed knee into Mr. Balmoral's instrument, so to speak and then took off ran away into the interior of her island.

Her husband gave chase, although his vision having been compromised for a moment or two the direction he took was inaccurate by several degrees, a margin of error that should have been of little consequence on such a small patch of earth. But for him the consequences turned out to be anything but small. A few hundred yards inland he found himself running across an open patch of what at first appeared to be moldy ground, having a curious purple-green glow to it. As he ran across this self illuminated earth he found that it was possessed of a somewhat bouncy quality. While it was true that Mirabelle's husband was not a lover of music and his attitude towards the role of the woman in a marriage could most charitably be described as the product of his time, he in truth did have a lighter side to his nature. There was nothing he liked better than a good romp, and was easily distracted by any opportunity to display his physical prowess, even if the audience was just himself and, as in this case, some curiously colored earth. The springy nature of the earth was at its most pronounced near the center and with such an assist under his feet the temptation to test his vertical leap was too much. And so he took a few steps back from what seemed to be the optimal spot, made a running start back at it and sprang into the air with satisfying results. The satisfaction was short-lived, however, for when he landed a small spark flared out from under his sturdy boots followed quickly by an explosion that if it had not divided him into the human equivalent of splinters would surely have rendered him deaf for the remainder of his days.

Mirabelle heard the thunderous boom, and using a slender thread of smoke rising into the air as a guide, quickly made her way to the edge of the clearing. The smoke had largely dissipated by then but she deduced from the smoldering spot of very bright earth right in the middle of the clearing that she had found the source of the big bang and it did not seem advisable to Mirabelle to investigate any closer. And since the noise most likely would have attracted the attention of her husband (little did she know!), she thought it a grand time while he was distracted, to slip back to the cove, tie his borrowed boat to the back of the family skiff, and head back home. She would send for him in a day or two.

But as she turned to go she stumbled across something in the scrubby groundcover. It was a boot. She bent to pick it up but found it was too hot to hold. When she dropped the boot it landed sole up and she saw two things. First, that the nails on the bottom were glowing bright, bright orange. Second, that the initials G.W.B. were etched into the heel.

Mirabelle knew the bottom of that boot all too well. Every evening she had been obliged to straddle her husband's legs, one at a time, backside facing him, and then grab hold of the extended boot and yank it off. His contribution to the effort had been to plant his other foot against her backside and push.

She gazed down at the boot for a moment, then looked around for any other bits of her husband. Then she brought the recorder to her lips and played a short and lively dance by Demantius that Captain Stanley had taught her in one of his less energetic moods. She played it as loudly as she could, looked around her, and then followed it with an encore. She tipped over the boot with the toe of her shoe and was about to insert the non-blowing end of her recorder into it to pick it up, but for whatever reason, whether because such a reminder would have been too painful or because of a concern for the cleanliness of her instrument, she instead found a sturdy twig to perform the task.

She backed away from the clearing and made her way back to the cove, where she placed the boot in the borrowed boat, tied it to the back of her skiff, and began rowing back out to sea. But as soon as she was clear of the surrounding arms of the cove, she set aside her oars and untied the rope holding the two vessels together. Once again she picked up her recorder. The slow and melancholy tune she played was an improvised one, but had all the refinement of Haydn on a good day. She watched the boat with its boot passenger bob and drift towards the open sea and then turned herself toward home.

There was of course a search for the missing Geoffrey Wallace Balmoral, but as he had proven in life to be more than a bit of a dunderhead and lazy into the bargain, the search was brief and its lack of results a minor distraction from the everyday business of survival.

Mirabelle's retreat was discovered eventually by a group of teenagers who had gone out boating together with the intention of finding a secluded spot for some skinnydipping. The young ladies of the group encouraged the young men to doff their duds and plunge into the water with the promise to afford the lads an excellent show they had no intention of performing. The boys soon discovered the deception, came back to shore and the inevitable chase ensued, full of giggles and shouted commentary regarding the effects of cold water bathing. When one of the girls playfully hurled a flask at her naked and rapidly warming pursuer she missed by yards, which he found quite amusing. Until, that is, the flask landed in the curiously glowing clearing directly behind him and he suddenly found himself with a scorched bottom.

The adjoining island and its explosive interior were subsequently annexed and declared off limits. A patrol was established to enforce the rule, but as it was manned by volunteers and especially since the detonating nature of the place seemed to be a sufficient deterrent for most, soon enough the widow Balmoral had the place once again to herself. She remarried a fellow named Pherrett, who didn't mind her music making at all, as long as she took it out of the house. They had one child, a boy they named William Franz. He had no love of music, which disappointed his mother but she found solace in the boy's knack for the visual arts, which she discovered when cleaning under his bed only to find dozens of skillfully executed sketches of female nudes, all of them easily recognizable, a sure sign of talent.

"That's quite an imagination you have, young William," she said after confronting him with the evidence.

"Oh, it's not imagination," said William. "I do them from life."

"And just where do you and your floozies meet for such wicked carrying on?"

"The only place that's safe," he said. "Your island."

She pondered this for a moment before responding.

"Well then, it will be my island on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You may have it Tuesdays and Thursdays. Saturdays will be for chores and Sundays are for worship. Agreed?"

"Yes, mum."


Since that time Pittiana has been a quiet presence on the world stage.

Until now.



CHAPTER ONE



Leonard Featherstone looked at the digital clock in the center of the dash. It said 3:06 A.M. He shifted, trying to fend off a cramp that was beginning to grip the left side of his butt. He looked at the clock again. It still said 3:06. It was a chilly January morning in the parking lot of the Casa Bonitas Mananas Apartments in Mesa, Arizona and it was Leonard's turn to stay awake and watch.

He tried shifting into an angled position across the narrow seat, but that pushed his right shoulder against the door frame and made him hold one foot bent unnaturally against whatever it was that came down from the underbelly of the middle of the dash. He gave a tug to the recline lever between the seat and console and found himself suddenly staring at the headliner. Horizontal might be all right when it came around his turn to sleep, but as a lookout position it wouldn't do.

He sat back up and tried the lever again. The seat back did not move. He grabbed the headrest and pulled, but the seat still refused to budge. He yanked the lever up and shoved it down several times. The little car rocked with each tug.

"Damn!"

His partner reached over and flipped the lever up with one finger. The seat back snapped up so fast it was all Leonard could do to keep his head from smacking into the windshield. His partner turned and, to all appearances, went back to sleep.

Philleda Johnstone-Crumb looked enormously comfy wrapped up in her puffy ski jacket. Leonard listened to the sound of her breathing and studied the reflection of her face in the dark window. He couldn't help thinking that notwithstanding the fact she had just now almost rocketed his head through the windshield his partner was a rather attractive young woman. Asleep she looked damn near enchanting.

Enough of that. However enchanting an appearance his partner might present asleep or awake Leonard was not going to allow it to distract him. Not when he finally had an opportunity to advance up the Pittiana Intelligence ladder. All he had to do was take care of this assignment with some speed and polish and he would get the promotion he so richly deserved. Then he would finally be making enough money to move out of his sister's flat where he shared a bathroom with his three hygienically moronic nephews. And then it would be time to think about enchanting young women.

The only reason Philleda was along for the ride was the fact that she was supposedly familiar with the territory, having attended Arizona State University some five or six years earlier, graduating with a degree in kinesiology, whatever in the hell that was. As near as Leonard could figure out it had something to do with dancing. A spy with a degree in tap.

Their mission should have been simple. All they needed to do was bring back home one Geoffrey Sandrich Witherington-Pherrett.

Readers' Choice




Readers’ Choice

Hi everyone,

This may or may not be a good idea, but to tell the truth I'm stuck and am looking for any possible way to get unstuck. From personal experience I can tell you that it is Next To Impossible (which is, of course, a whole different thing than Actually Impossible) to write a novel and lead an otherwise normal, family pleasing, income producing life. But I've done it, and so have a whole lot of other folks including some of you. So you'd think doing it again would be just a tad easier than the first time.

Not so.

Not when three novels are bopping around in ones head at once, all clamoring for what little time and attention there is to be had from me. The result is that none of them receives its proper due and all end up languishing.

So here is my request of you, Dear Readers: Tell Me Which Opening Draws You In. One by one I am going to post just the opening couple of pages to each of these gestating novels and I would be most beholden to you if you would weigh in on the attention grabbing, or snore inducing features you find. Just leave me a comment and after all three have been out there for a while I will see what the collective voice has to say.

I am fully prepared for "Dump "em all and try something completely different!" or even "Who do ya think you're tryin' to fool, ya no talent bum? They all stink!" If that's what you think, please let me know.

Here is the opening to the one that has been through the most changes. It is also the one with the least "in the can" in its current incarnation. It's called Dash.





Dash

by

Alan Hutcheson


Chapter One


Not all that long ago, Tuesday perhaps, in a land not quite so far away as you and I might like to think, there lived a youngish fellow named Dash Bailey.

Dash had a steady job, which he didn't particularly care for, and a steady girlfriend, about whom he hadn't examined his feelings in any real detail for some time. The job provided him with a predictable source of income and the girlfriend provided him with a predictable source of companionship. Dash was generally well liked among the other people at work, paid his bills on time, and never, ever forgot his mother's birthday. He washed his car twice a month whether it really needed it or not. And he always put out a small bag of store brand canned goods for the neighborhood scout troop to pick up on their scheduled pickup date. If there were no specials on store brand canned goods he fleshed out the offering with a package of paper napkins, which gave a nice, full appearance to the bag and had the added advantage of not overly taxing its weight capacity.

But at this moment in Dash's life he was not contributing to the nutritional and dining room etiquette needs of the underprivileged. Nor was he making himself agreeable to the other people at work or writing checks to his creditors or washing his car. He wasn't watching television with his girlfriend or visiting his mother. At this moment, the instant during which he was poised unawares directly above the fulcrum of his existance, Dash was looking over his fence.

The reason Dash was looking over his fence on what we now can state with some certainty was a Saturday and not, in fact, a Tuesday―he was a reliable employee and would have been at work on a Tuesday―was that moments earlier, as he was lounging on his back patio, reading his favorite sports magazine, Dash had noticed a quantity of dirt come sailing over his fence. A small portion of the dirt landed on the decking around his pool. The rest of it went splash into the pool. It was the splash that had attracted his attention.

While Dash was examining the dark and spreading mess in what had been his sparkling clean pool, another quantity of dirt came arcing over the fence, confirming his theory about where the first load had originated and its method of arrival. Unlike the first batch, most of this load did not make it into the pool. It was largely diverted onto the pool decking by Dash's back and head.

"What the hell?" Dash said. Loudly. "Hey!" He jumped out of the way of a third load of dirt, clearing it to land without interference in the pool.

He took another two or three cautionary steps to the side.

"Cut that out!"

He shifted position another couple of steps, just in case the dirt was voice-seeking. A fourth load came flying over the fence, taking the same general path as the first three, but with the exception of a few pebbles that bounced into the water, it came up short of the pool. And this time it had been preceded by what sounded to Dash like a muffled grunt and an equally muffled "Hyah!".

He shifted one more step away from the dirt trajectory, put his hands on top of the fence and boosted himself up. Dash had never seen his next door neighbor's backyard, admittedly a sad testament to the prevailing level of neighborly interaction in that and many other parts of suburbia, but what he saw then still struck him as more than a little surprising.

There were two trees of unremarkable pedigree and marginal robustness, one at either back corner. The rest of the space was lawn. Or rather it was webbed with spidery traces of discouraged looking turf where there weren't holes or large mounds of dirt. The holes were spaced about three feet apart in relatively neat rows going from the back of the house to the back fence and from one side fence to the other. It gave the yard a sort of gopher infestation look if the gopher involved had a thing for symmetry and was roughly the size of a Rottweiler.

"Hello?" Dash said in the direction of the hole that lined up best with ground zero on his side of the fence. "Hello?"

"Waarrrrroooof!"

The reply, if it was a reply, came not from the hole, but from directly behind Dash. Both the reply's form and its direction came as a surprise to Dash. He lost his grip on the top of fence, tumbling back down, skinning his chin badly against the cement block on the way down.

"Ow!"

"Waarrrooooof."

It wasn't quite so loud as the first, which was good, since it came from right next to his left ear.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Pain and Rainbows




OCTOBER 28, 2008


Life is a challenge, but the days, all sorts of days, can still be good. I had a couple of days at the end of last week that brought that home to me.

Last week my work schedule was all over the place. On Friday I had to be there at 4:45 AM in order to open up for and then lead the crew that would be stocking the shelves with an enormous amount of merchandise that had come in the night before. There is a separate crew that empties the truck and places the merchandise on the aisles. They go home around midnight.

We had a few things going against us. I had never been team leader for this effort before. There was going to be a killer amount of merchandise with a lot of stuff mixed in that we would have to sort and pull aside because it belongs to a big holiday set-up that would be executed in a few days. And four of the relatively experienced crew members of the regular staff of sixteen had excused themselves for one reason or another and I would have four absolutely brand new crew members to work with.

I couldn't sleep the night before, afraid that either I had not set the alarm clock properly or I would sleep right through my three o'clock wake-up call. I must have checked the clock at least six or seven times between ten o'clock when we went to bed and 2:50 AM when I finally said the hell with it and just got up. I got myself ready, had a filling breakfast and headed out. Twenty-five miles to work. The drive wasn't bad, traffic being light around the four o'clock hour in the morning.

The aisles in the store were awash in jumbled product, some still in the master cartons. The night crew had not had time to completely do what we call Slash and Dump, which when done properly actually leaves the morning crew with neat stacks of product that can be immediately worked on to the shelves. We were faced with a massive amount of catch-up work and it was obvious to everyone. But I didn't hear any complaints. They recognized that the night crew had been up against it and they understood.

At five o'clock I led the crew in some fun warm-ups, including a few from my old acting days. Limber muscles were gotten with some basic stretching, reaching for the ceiling, stacking one vertebrate on top of the next one, etc., and I even threw in a round each of a couple of vocal exercises, "pucketa, pucketa, pucketa" and "mywah, mywah, mywah", which everyone seemed to enjoy. I figured it would not only bring an early morning smile but assist with the need to communicate clearly during the process.

Everyone, rookies and two-month veterans alike (nearly all of us started late August) worked very hard, but by eight o'clock it was obvious we were not going to make our ideal goal of Done by store opening at nine o'clock. Not even close.

But nobody expressed discontent. Nobody grumbled. Nearly everyone volunteered to stay later than their scheduled ten o'clock shift end time so we could collectively Get it Done. When someone had completed one section, they either found another area that needed attention on their own or came to me wanting direction on where they were needed most.

Eventually I was able to start sending people home. I continued as long as I could, my shift lasting well beyond its scheduled time. It wasn't exhaustion that sent me home, but the store manager, worried about overtime. But it was okay, because the store looked pretty damned good. And I felt pretty damned good, which surprised the heck out of me, considered my vintage and the amount of lifting, pushing, walking, sometimes running, and ladder climbing I had done over the past umpteen hours, and all on a collective three hours of sleep.

The drive home had way too much traffic, but the public radio station was interesting. On my way I stopped and did some grocery shopping. When I got home I made dinner, even helped with a load of laundry. We sat down around eight o'clock to watch a recorded "Daily Show with John Stewart"and I was out like a light.

All in all an exhausting day.

The next day when I woke after ten hours of relatively uninterrupted (let's consider my vintage, shall we?) sleep my right knee hurt like a son-of-a-bitch. I mean really hurt. I took a couple of ibuprofen so I could make it through a completely different sort of a day. We attended the Mesa Arts Center Storytelling Festival. No exertion on my part required outside of sauntering from the parking garage to the theaters where the marvelous storytellers (people actually make a living doing this and I think it is amazingly wonderful) were holding court. There were three inside venues, all with a common lobby, and one outdoors and something was going on in all four at any particular time so you had to choose. Either it was a no lose situation or we chose well, because the four storytellers we saw were great. Sitting seemed to aggravate my knee pain, so I had to keep flexing the thing as I sat, but often I found I was so transported by the stories and songs that I didn't notice the fifty-three year old knee at all.

When lunch time came around we took a short stroll down Main Street and actually found a little cafe that was open (we will talk about the mournful state of my hometown's downtown at some other time). Good sandwiches and huge cookies and some great people watching.

All in all a very relaxing day.

So anyway, life is challenging. A lot of this has to do with the damned economy. It sucks and a personal manifestation of that is that I have a job which demands much and pays nowhere near what my last job paid. But I enjoy the work and the people I work with.

And because money is really tight, we have to find economical sources of entertainment. Well, the Storytelling Festival was free on Saturday. A bargain on a grand scale.

The next day I rather hesitantly put my still sore knee to the test by playing tennis with my long time buddies Jonathan and Andy (Paul, our fourth, passed away a couple of years ago). I would have given tennis a pass that week but for the fact that I've had to give most weeks a pass lately on account of the job that doesn't pay a whole lot.* It turned out that all I had to do was concentrate on good form, keep my knees bent, and not push myself too hard. After an hour of hard court action my knee actually felt pretty good.



Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.**


*I would like to make clear that the fact it doesn't Pay A Whole Lot doesn't mean it's not a good job or that I don't feel quite fortunate to have it.

**You're on your own with joint issues. I'm just telling you what happened with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hey Baby, I'm Your Handyman?



Today was a day off of work, which means there was lots to do. Now that's all right with me, I do not like being bored and I get bored pretty easily. And I have discovered that, contrary to my earlier self-image of a Quiet Thinker, I actually enjoy Moving About and Getting Things Done quite a bit. The only problem I have run up against when it comes to around the house chores is that I'm not exactly Mr. Fix-It.

On the agenda today I had three things to accomplish:

1) Replace the spout in the kids bathtub. Neither of them ever takes a bath, we are a shower kind of family, but the bottom of the spout is showing definite signs of rust and besides, it is just held on by one little screw.

2) Put down the winter grass seed. For those of you from places other than Arizona, this is an annual ritual many of us homeowners go through in order to have green lawns during the winter. The summer lawn goes dormant when night temperatures fall below about 70 degrees F. You can either conserve water and have a crispy brown lawn all winter or you can overseed it with rye grass seed.

3) Figure out a way to seal the front screen door so we can have the lovely autumn and winter and spring fresh air (yes, that is a nice thing about living in the Hottest Damned City in the nation) waft through the house without all manner of insects and reptiles wander in with the waft.

Well, here's my end-of-day report.

I tried to remove the one screw holding the bath spout in place. It resisted. Quite effectively. Wouldn't move one little tiny bit. I tried every slothead screwdriver I've got with no success. I bathed the screw in WD-40. Still no go. It is now 4:48 PM and I began wrestling with that one little bit of rusted in metal almost nine hours ago, revisiting it approximately every hour to see if it had decided to cooperate. Last visit was about five minutes ago. For a little piece of not so high quality metalwork it sure does have a stubborn streak.

In between early go-rounds with the spout screw I mowed the lawn. You need to get the existing hay chopped really close to the ground before broadcasting the rye seed and since my lawnmower is of the electric and cheap variety that requires multiple passes. Not a problem. A bit tiring but well within my skill set. But when I took out the WeedEater to edge the lawn I got about three feet along and ran out of line. No blue nylon string to whirl around and give me that clean, fine edge.

I had been planning to get my seeding and sealing materials at the local hardware store, the place where the people are ready and happy to assist the non-professionals of the world, but the last couple of times I have tried to get WeedEater line there they have not had the kind my machine requires. So instead of going to two places and using precious time and gas, I sucked it up and went to Home Depot.

I needed grass seed, something to put on top of the seed to help keep it moist whilst germinating, weatherstripping and flexible door-bottom moulding, and construction adhesive to hold the moulding to the door bottom.

In the gardening section I found grass seed and something called "Earthgro Steer Manure Blend", which said on the bag it was a combination of the old standby cow poop and compost. Sounded like a good and cheap way to cover the seeds and maybe cut down a bit on the aroma one enjoys when dealing with 100% manure.

The construction adhesive was on one of the paint aisles, which I ended up on because the aisle I was trying to explore was closed off.

The weatherstripping and moulding were a bit harder to locate. I wandered the accessible aisles for a while and finally decided to ask for help. Or at least make an attempt to do so. At Home Depot they take well deserved pride in being able to stock, climb and talk on the phone while moving at amazing speed away from bothersome customers.
True to form most of the associates were doing their best to uphold the company's reputation by doggedly performing all manner of duties that were designed quite effectively to block out all notice of customers. As a matter of fact, a good percentage of them seemed to be practicing to move up to road construction work by blocking off random aisles with scissor action barricades, huge push-ladders and loudly beeping forklifts.

But there was actually one employee holding court in the middle of the aisle that slashes through the center of the store who seemed to be going out of his way to assist customers and was having an obviously good time doing so. Of course this meant that all the assistance requiring customers were gravitating to him and it was nearly impossible to get within shouting distance of the fellow.

I shoved aside a couple dozen senior citizens, buttonholed the helpful fellow, asked where I could find weatherstripping and moulding, was cheerfully told "Hardware, second aisle. Have a great day!" and went in the indicated direction, leaving him to be reswarmed by DIY octogenarians.

The weatherstripping was just where he said it was and all it took to get to it was to shove a really big rolling ladder out of the way, so life was good. The moulding was close by, as a matter of fact it was right behind where I had just displaced the ladder to, so I sent it back home and grabbed my bounty.

When I got home I put screwdriver to the spout screw. It was as expected.

Next I broadcast the seed. Outside of the dogs being a bit more curious than was necessary and a couple pounds of seed landing in their coats, it went well. Then I tore open the Steer Manure Blend bags and began distributing their contents over the lawn. I made two discoveries about this product. The blend includes not just the advertised manure and compost but a goodly number of rocks. And blending manure with anything, even rocks, has no real effect on its stink. Especially when you have to spend quality time with it sorting out the inorganic blend material.

Next on the schedule was a date with weatherstripping. That went pretty well. Considering that the heavy steel screen door is hung unevenly in its frame making it impossible for one particular thickness of weatherstripping to properly seal around the entire door. There are spots now where the fit is perfect, spots where muscle is required to compress the weatherstripping enough for the door to close and spots where a reasonably svelte puma could saunter in without breaking stride.

We will talk about the bottom of door moulding at some later date. At the moment I am a bit too emotional on that subject to give you an accurate narrative.

But here's the kicker. I was so tickled to find the weatherstripping and moulding and so thrown by my encounter with a Home Depot employee willing to risk his continued employment by ignoring company directives regarding speaking with customers that I completely forgot to get the WeedEater line.



Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nobody's Leading, But If You Would Like to Follow Anyway




Hi everyone.

I have just been introduced to a new feature here on Blogger called "Follower". It is really pretty cool if you have some blogs you like to stay current with and don't really want to or have the time to check up on them every time you sit down in front of your computer. Plus it kind of establishes a bit of a community of those who have a common interest in a certain blog like, for instance, say, Sketches by Plumboz.

So whether you have stopped by here many times (nice to see you again!) or this is your first wander by, even by accident (welcome!) and you would like to know when there is a new bit of nonsense to be found on Ye Olde Sketches by Plumboz, I would love for you to join the gathering.

Honestly, I'm not sure about the word "Followers", with its Time to drink the Kool-Aid connotations, so if it's okay with you we'll just call it Friends, but whatever you call it if you would like to join, please do so.


And as always: Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise. (that can be our secret passcode, eh?)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Of Frittatas and Penguins


Yesterday whilst driving home from work I was listening to NPR. Actually, the car radio was already tuned to NPR and I was about to punch the button that would have switched me to the CD function so I could listen to and sing along with (after my own peculiar fashion) Bryn Terfel in his interpretations of Broadway tunes, but when the announcer said that the next segment was going to feature Berkeley Breathed, creator of Bloom County and most specifically of Opus the Penguin, I left the controls alone.

The sad news is that Mr. Breathed is giving up his Sunday strip, which for the past several years has simply been called "Opus", in order to devote himself to his book writing. In fact he has a new book called Pete and Pickles out now. The entire interview is available to listen to on the link below, but here is what struck me about his primary reason for shifting away from Opus and devoting himself exclusively to childrens' books. It is because he likes the part of him that writes the books better. There is a part of him that wants to do what he calls "the Michael Moore" stuff and there is a part of him drawn toward the Walt Disney side and he has made a conscious decision to cultivate the Disney part. As much as I think we need the Michael Moores of the world, we are in desperate need of more Disneys, so I say "Good on you, Mr. Breathed."

Here's that link: NPR Interview.


Now to the frittata.

It has been a while since I've posted a recipe. I made this last night and I think it came out pretty good.

What's In the Fridge Frittata

As the name indicates, what I put in this dish was dictated by what was in the refrigerator the day before grocery shopping day.

Thinly slice an onion of the yellow variety, I used a Vidalia. Heat up a medium sized skillet over medium heat and pour in about a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and cook it until it's tender.

Take seven eggs and whump 'em up pretty good.

In a bowl.

Don't be mean about it, just scramble 'em up good.

Add about a cup of grated mozzarella chee
se.

Some dried oregano (maybe a teaspoon)
Some freshly ground pepper (maybe a quarter of a teaspoon, do what you like)
A bit of salt.
A couple of good handfuls of spinach leaves, chopped up a bit.
Five or six crimini mushrooms, also chopped up a bit.

Give it all a good stir.

Thinly slice a roma tomato. Set it aside for just a bit.

If you've got a jar of sundried tomato, julienne style, pluck out maybe an eighth of a cup and let 'em drain on a paper towel.

When the onion is nice and tender, lower the temp to around medium-low and pour in the egg mixture. Give it a minute or two and then layer on the tomato slices and sundried tomato. Cover the skillet and cook until almost completely set.

In the meantime heat up your broiler.

When the eggs are almost done put the skillet under the broiler and finish it off.

This was good with a nice sourdough bread, which I sliced, drizzled with olive oil and gave a bit of time under the broiler right after I took the frittata out.


I hope everyone is doing well and eating healthy.


Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008



Last week I spent my day off at the courthouse. Me and a whole lot of other folks had been called to Jury Duty. I won't keep you in suspense: No, I didn't get picked for a jury. After lunch, after I had already been there for about four and a half hours, I was called along with thirty-nine other people to form a panel from which an eventual jury of a dozen (I think it was a dozen) was selected. Those of us not chosen were given the word at 4:30 in the afternoon, which timed it just right for all of us to take full advantage of peak rush hour traffic out of downtown Phoenix. I left with mixed feelings about not having been chosen. It just might have been interesting.

At the very least, I had been hoping that the jury duty experience would give me some material for my little online journal here. I took notes both while waiting to be impaneled (is that a word?) and even during the question and answer session with the judge and lawyers but nothing seems to beg expanding upon or even exaggerating for effect.

Be that as it may, while I was waiting my turn to be called (mine was the fifth group of the day) there was video entertainment. At first it consisted of a short film that began by enumerating the satisfaction to the individual and the benefits to society to be gotten out of showing up for jury duty and ended with a rather lengthy list of instructions on how to behave ourselves. This was interrupted at intervals by a woman many of us could not see giving us even more instructions over an intercom system. Much of what she had to say had to do with location of restrooms and emergency exits and consisted exclusively of phrases along the lines of "over there" and "to the right" and might have been worth paying closer attention to if the room hadn't been configured in such a way as to make it impossible for a large percentage of us to see her. "Over there" is an abstract concept under such circumstances.


When the Citizens' Duty video was over they showed the wonderful Kevin Costner movie "Field of Dreams", which I have seen many times and enjoyed every time. There are so many things about that film that resonate or just delight: the idea of risking it all on faith; the understanding and support Costner's character receives from his immediate family, the ones with the most to lose; James Earl Jones' performance; the first time the Chicago Black Sox team goes back into the corn field; the soundtrack music; the line of cars approaching the ballpark at the end of the movie.

But this time it was a line from Shoeless Joe Jackson talking about his love affair with baseball. I may have a word or two off, but this is the essence of it.

I would have done it for food money.

It got me thinking. What is it in this world that is so much a part of who I am that I would do it even if I knew there was little or no prospect of it ever delivering anything above a basic lifestyle? Life complicates that question when there are other people in ones life. But the question is still there and honestly it is a tough one. I suppose it can only be answered if one has had at least reached the food money level by doing what one loves. Only then can the question be answered "Is it enough?"

So I put it to you, Dear Reader. Is there something that is so much a part of you that you would do it for food money and be happy?



Go Ye Forth and Do Likewise


P.S. The Wobbly Sketch is of the al fresco dining area at The Change of Venue dining establishment at the courthouse. I had a buffalo chicken wrap for lunch. I cannot recommend it.



A Bit About Me

My photo
I am a writer with a longtime interest in photography. I'm a dad, husband, photographer, and not very good guitarist. My first novel, Boomerang, is available in both paperback and ebook form at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. As a matter of fact, my second novel, The Baer Boys, can be found at exactly the same places.