The Gift of the Magi


By O. Henry

Gift of the MagiOne dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?”

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

……………………………………………………………………..

O. Henry is an American short-story writer whose tales romanticized the commonplace—in particular the life of ordinary people in New York City. His stories expressed the effect of coincidence on character through humor, grim or ironic, and often had surprise endings, a device that became identified with his name and cost him critical favor when its vogue had passed. From the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Little Red Riding Hood and Mr. Wolf


A Trumped-up Tale

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

little-red-and-bb-wolfeOnce upon a time, a girl child who appeared older than her years in her eponymous red and hooded cloak sashayed into the autumn forest to bring cake and wine to her Crooked Granny. And it was the granny’s bad liberal judgment that had put Little Red Riding Hood on the road alone, with a basket of booze.

Skipping along the trail, Little Red noticed Mr. Wolf expounding his many virtues and heaping promise upon promise onto a gathering of lowly forest dwellers. Although she couldn’t put her finger on it, he had a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it was his commoditized tan, the classy platinum and diamond cufflinks, his audacious howl imparting words she’d never dared whisper in public. She was uncertain, but the sight of him left her both wanting some of that and well entertained.

Mr. Wolf, meanwhile, having espied Little Red and her skin so fair, noted the symbolism and slicked down his fur. He grabbed her elbow and spoke cooing words, offering her an insider’s detour from her appointed path to the hugest flowers of the forest, on land he owned and had recently cleared of tree-huggers.

Although a bit trampled during the ecogeeks’ ejection, the flowers were of much greater appeal to Little Red than Crooked Granny, whom Little Red never much cared for, anyway. And she felt entitled to the blossoms. So it was that she happily abandoned her responsibility to pursue the pleasures of ephemeral gratification, with nary a thought of the consequences.

Little Red’s distraction allowed Mr. Wolf to arrive at Crooked Granny’s first, determined to sever the ugly old lady’s influence on Red’s lily-white, PC-battered family, even if he had to say something extremely rough to convince her. He was, of course, totally the only one capable of stopping her.

Crooked Granny, lacking keen sight, saw only a buffoon, assumed hers was the predominant perception across the land, and responded to Mr. Wolf’s entrance into her refined-yet-understated cottage with an eye roll.

Offended by her mean dismissal, Mr. Wolf did what any millionaire revenge artist and member of the lucky sperm club would do: He forsook negotiation and took the consumptive route, gobbling down the crooked crone—because he was certainly no schmuck, because it felt good, and because it was smart to be shallow. Then he bundled into Crooked Granny’s bed and sniffed at her sleepwear. The linens’ thread count was deplorable, but he knew he’d be sleeping in his own gilded forest canopy soon enough, so he settled in and awaited the naif’s arrival, eager to continue reciting the glib promises of greatness he would deliver upon her and her family.

Little Red skipped in as the sun was setting and the sky hinted of a hoary frost, but her cheeks were as rosy as her hood, inflamed with the joy of claiming the forest’s flowers.

Mr. Wolf looked at her, imagined a 10 beneath the red riding hood, and invited her to warm up under the comforter.

Although Little Red was curious about what had befallen Crooked Granny, she was more concerned for herself. In the forest, she’d seen other creatures receive countless special considerations—wings to fly, claws to climb, tongues to slurp termites from tree stumps, not that she’d ever eat termites—but she needed to think of herself first. She could not worry about others. So Little Red climbed into bed with Mr. Wolf and laid her head on his chest, confident that he would keep her warm.

Mr. Wolf, however, was still stinging from Crooked Granny’s nasty rebuke and he was a bit hungry. He contemplated making Little Red his unfortunate dessert or maybe just homing in for a grab, but his considerations were interrupted by Heroic Huntsman. He was yodeling by the cottage with his mighty sword in hand and satellite dish on his back. Mr. Wolf called to the huntsman to come in, invited him to sit in Crooked Granny’s rocker by the fire, and let loose an audacious howling, rich with sound bites and swagger.

Calculating the remunerative facts of the scene, Heroic Huntsman did sit. He put down his sword and took out pen and paper. And he wrote “The Ballad of Mr. Wolf,” which, come morning, he carried forth, following Mr. Wolf’s paw prints to all points of the compass, helping entice a huge minority of the populace to lend their ears to Mr. Wolf’s howls and applaud them, every one.

And Mr. Wolf lived happily ever after.

Little Red and Heroic Huntsman, it turned out, not so much.

Love,
K-B

With apologies to Charles Perrault and Brothers Grimm

…………………..

About Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Spawned by a Southern Baptist creationist and a liberal social worker, K-B inherited the requisite sense of humor to survive family dinner-table debates and the imagination to avoid them. Now represented by Trident Media Group, she has an MFA in Creative Writing, with an emphasis on narrative nonfiction, and has taught Women’s Studies in the Cal State University system. Her political fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry have been published by The Missing SlateTrivia: Feminist VoicesMs. Magazine blogSan Diego Poetry Annual, New Moon Girl Media, San Diego Uptown NewsSan Diego Gay and Lesbian News, American University’s iVory Towerz, Chiron Review, and others. She is a prose editor at www.WritersResist.com.

 

Interview with Re Jane author Patricia Park


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

 

Re Jane Author Patricia Park

See Patricia Park at Warwick’s Books
Thursday 28 April 2016, 6:30 pm
7812 Girard Avenue, La Jolla, CA 92037

When novelist Patricia Park set out to write Re Jane, she wanted to re-write Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s classic. The latter’s Jane was published in Victorian 1847 and set in the Georgian era. Neither time period offered women many options other than marriage. Park’s Jane was first published in 2015, when women had a multitude of options, if not equality.

“I wanted to show what would happen if Jane was in the present day,” Park said as she was preparing for the just-released paperback edition book tour, “if my novel would end with that iconic line, ‘Reader, I married him.’”

It took Park years to figure it out as she crafted a story about contemporary Korean-American orphan Jane Re. Those years, although not as trying as Jane Eyre’s, were challenging. While Park worked, earned an MFA, researched and scribbled, her siblings’ professional careers were taking off. Park, a Korean-American herself, felt the painful comparison. But the successful publication of Re Jane changed that.

Re Jane by Patricia Park

New paperback edition of Re Jane, available 19 April 2016, from Penguin Books

“I feel like I can hold my head up a little bit higher. This novel took me almost ten years. You try to explain to people what you’re doing and you have nothing to show for yourself. It really affects your self-esteem. … [My parents] did not understand what I was doing, but once they held that physical book, they were proud of me, and that was a winning moment for me.”

The book follows Jane’s quest for identity, leading her through the psychic and emotional land mines of a post-sexual revolution era, when intimate affairs are at risk of becoming public fodder and the story’s Women’s Studies lecturer struggles for tenure. Jane’s search begins in Queens, N.Y., where she works in her uncle and aunt’s grocery store with the pragmatic name “FOOD.” She becomes embroiled in a romance and is summoned to South Korea to meet her failing grandfather. There, Jane learns that the land of her ancestors is a series of surprises—as did the author, who traveled to Korea on a Fulbright scholarship.

“I was whiling away taxpayer dollars.” Park laughed. “Actually, I set out to study the concept of the orphan and how the orphan is understood in the context of the Korean society versus the Victorian society. I was doing volunteer work with group homes, often run by churches, where children are left because the parents don’t have the resources to raise them. So I was doing volunteer work with these group homes and at adoption agencies, services for Korean adoptees. I was writing full time and just trying to take in as much of the modern culture as I could. For a lot of hyphenated Americans like myself, we romanticize the motherland, but the reality is, when we get there, our understanding of the culture was frozen in time—whenever our ancestors left.”

Jane Re leaves Korea enlightened about her parentage and returns to an intimate relationship dilemma.

“When Jane meets the Ed Farley character, he’s the first man to take notice of her,” Park explained. “With women or characters like Jane, they’re grateful for what crumbs are thrown their way. At the same time, gratefulness does not translate to love. A lot of times we feel guilty for even staying involved in relationships, and I wanted to play with that essential for someone like Jane, who has her whole future ahead of her.”

Jane’s future is inevitably tied to her past. Determining where she’s from, who she is, where she’s heading—regardless of how others perceive her or what they expect of her—is a common challenge for children of immigrants, fictional and real.

As Park said, “That’s just part of our every day.”

Jane Re’s resolution, like Jane Eyre’s, reflects well the days in which she is living.

 

The Saga of Clete and Juanita’s Pool, Part 4


Ninety-nine Bottles of Beer

By Dan McClenaghan

 

Read previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

Clete and Juanita's pool

The remnants of the now subsurface meteorite had rendered gravity—a force considered as constant as God—inconsistent in the vicinity of Clete and Juanita Johnson’s backyard swimming pool. Big Brother knew this, and kept the area under surveillance via satellite and, sporadically, spy drones. It was a passive observation, until one unseasonably warm night in February, when the recorded gravity variations took a capricious turn, and an interventionist approach was deemed necessary,

Juanita noticed the change when she threw the squeaky chew toy belonging to her Chihuahua, Ginger, out over the airspace of the swimming pool. Normally, one of two things would happen in this game: either the fake rubber toy would sail into the embrace of a less than one G circumstance and hover above the water, where Ginger, giving chase, would fly like a wingless bat to retrieve it, or gravity would be rolling in a normal mode, and the toy, followed by Ginger, would splash down, and the dog would make her retrieval and squeak and grin happily as she dog-paddled back to the patio.

This time, though, the toy flew at the pool and bounced off something invisible, a force field of some sort, or perhaps a wobble or anomaly of electromagnetism, or a boundary between two alternate universes bumping up against each other. The squeaky toy changed direction by one hundred and eighty degrees, bounced down on the patio and rolled up to Juanita’s flip-flop shod feet. And Ginger, who had dashed after it and left the ground before it had collided with the unknown force, hit snout first against the same obstacle, and her trajectory changed just as her toy’s had. She sailed back to the patio and hit on her little butt on the hard cement, yipping.

Juanita called into the house to her husband, Clete. He shuffled out the sliding screen door, away from his TV show, and Juanita demonstrated the new development by throwing the squeaky toy again, with identical results, while Ginger whimpered in her arms and refused to give chase.

“Ain’t that somethin’?” Clete said.

Juanita agreed that it was and wondered aloud if maybe they should cancel the barbecue pool party they had planned for late that afternoon. But Clete said that things out there—he motioned toward the pool—would probably roll back to normal by the time the gang arrived. Juanita agreed and went back in the house to whip up a batch of her famous guacamole.

The incident with the Chihuahua and the squeaky toy caught a screen watcher’s attention via a satellite feed at a secret military base in a corner of the Mojave Desert. It was decided it was time to send in another drone. It arrived—fortuitously for the watchers—as the pool party got underway.

Ellis Leahy, the next door neighbor, brought a big bottle of spiced rum and a couple of liter bottles of Coke. Chuck Malone from up the street, accompanied by his wife Nadine, who toted in a box of wine, rolled in a twenty-four pack of Corona beer in his ice chest on wheels. Ruth, Ellis’ wife, brought the mix for the margaritas, and Juanita pulled out from under her sink a bottle of Jose Cuervo she’d picked up cheap on her last trip down to Tijuana. And relatively new neighbor Roger Bennoni hefted in over his shoulder a 30 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, while his wife, Marilee, brought in a jug of pre-mix piña coladas.

The women set themselves up in the lawn chairs at pool side as the sun sank toward the Pacific horizon. Clete brought out a TV tray of meat and lit the tiki torches, and the men gathered around the Weber barbecue, to watch the briquets whiten in their pursuit of the proper temperature to cook the spicy pile of carne asada under plastic wrap on the tray. And everybody drank.

As Clete slapped the first slab of beef down on the hot grill, the men decided it would be a good idea to sing “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall,” mainly for the purpose of irritating the women.

There was not a skilled singer in the bunch. They bellowed, spitting with the enunciation of the letter “B,” stretching out the the word “wall” of the final verse—every time—into a coyote yodel, producing a non-unison mash up of terrible voices that achieved the goal of getting under the women’s skins. They were down to “Seventy-two bottles of beer” when Ruth—after telling the men to shut their damned mouths half a dozen times—got up and grabbed the hose and turned on the water, directing it at the Poolside Quartet. There was a high pressure nozzle affixed to the hose, so she was able to do quite an efficient job of wetting down the singers, who, gathering their limited wits, came to an impromptu agreement to retaliate when Ellis shouted, “CANNONBALL!”

The bellowing quartet, four mostly stout men—Clete was the skinny runt in this otherwise rotund and pot-bellied litter—aimed for the pool. They left the ground nearly, but not quite, simultaneously. Ellis, the ringleader, led the way, with his three compatriots inches behind him. Ellis screamed like Tarzan. He curled himself into a ball and hugged his knees. He leaned back so his butt—the most massive part of his body—would hit the water first.

The men would surely have caused a fine payback to Ruth and the rest of the snickering women, sitting just an arm’s length from the shimmering water, except that whatever had been going on with the pool when Ginger tried to retrieve her toy was still in effect.

Clete, under the influence of several shots of spiced rum, had forgotten about the anomaly, so Ellis, instead of hitting water, of course hit the repelling force that loomed over the pool that had been set in the meteorite crater in Clete and Juanita Johnson’s backyard. The force stopped Ellis at the zenith of his jump. His face distorted with the impact against the invisible barrier, and then he bounced back—arms and legs akimbo, eyes goggled with shock—and landed with a sandbag thump on the hard cement, a fate suffered in quick succession by each of his three fellow jumpers.

The women might have had more sympathy for their men if they, the women, hadn’t been quite so sauced up; and had those fools, the men, not been so flagrantly engaged in the art of purposeful jack ass-ism; and if their (the men’s) collective collision with the force field and subsequent falls to the hard poolside cement had not been so damned funny. As it was, the Lady’s Quartet—a mix of one shrill alto, two sopranos and one contralto—brayed and squealed and howled, putting the men’s yodeling to shame in terms of volume and sheer exuberance, and Nadine and Marilee, with the merriment seeping down into the marrow of their bones, jumped up and began to dance.

Ruth dropped her hose, doubled over and laughed herself out of breath, and laughed her bladder (that was full of Corona beer) into emergency mode. She was aware that, in this scenario, whoever made a fool of themselves last would be the butt of stinging jokes for the rest of the evening; that if she peed her pants now, publicly, the men’s ignominious missing of the pool would become a secondary source of humor.

Marilee suffered the same bladder problem, minus Ruth’s depth of analysis, and, without any knowledge of the problem with the gravity and force fields (she and Roger being newcomers to this hedonistic crowd), she decided she would avoid the embarrassment by jumping into the water, where she could pee undetected beneath the sign on the fence that said, “Paddle in Our Puddle But Don’t Piddle in Our Pool.”

Marilee bee-lined for the water. Juanita and Nadine shouted in unison: “DON’T!” But Marilee had already left the ground.

She soared out over the unpredictable pool’s cool blue surface a split second after the invisible anomaly changed character from a barrier to, once again, a negation of gravity, tugging Marilee out of her arc and into a vertical climb, to a roof-high altitude, where she hovered like a plump hummingbird, without the necessity of the blur of wings, as the government drone hummed in for a better look at the situation.

“Oh my,” Marilee said, as a lack of gravitational pull eased the urgency of her bladder, and Ruth barreled past the men into the house and knocked over an end table and a floor lamp, bulldozing her way to the bathroom; as Ellis limped over, picked up the dormant hose and turned it on the airborne Marilee, soaking her before she could “swim” higher above the backyard to avoid his high pressure stream; as Juanita and Nadine, to escape a hose-soaking fate, ran out the side gate and around to the front door of the house, then dashed through the living room, hurdling the misplaced lamp and table that Ruth had rearranged to lock the sliding glass door; as Marilee—having achieved a height beyond the reach of the hose—smacked her own ass and told the men that they could plant their kisses there; as Clete pondered the length of the pole of his skimming net, wondering if he could swing it at her and knock her out of that low gravity zone; as two unmarked cars and a nondescript van—uniformed Marines behind the wheels—pulled up out front, and four men in black suits, guns concealed under the arms, debarked and strode with purpose toward the front door.

Meanwhile, Marilee, continuing to goad the men, experienced a brief and puzzling transfer into a similar (but different) universe, one in which Clete and Juanita Johnson’s backyard pool was completely normal, in which the enthusiasm of the party had resulted in—instead of antagonism—an exuberant quartet of happy inebriates ending up in the pool, a universe in which Chuck Malone, from up the street, swam up behind her like a water moccasin and gave her butt a covert, subsurface pinch.

Then Marilee slipped back across the divide between the universes, just as the drone flew in, and she spied it and told whoever was watching the feed from the drone’s cameras to “plant one right there buddy boy,” and she smacked her ass. “Plant one right there.” Smack smack smack.

The drone camera was capable of magnification, but as it nudged into the the altered airspace, it malfunctioned while zooming in on Marilee’s butt and the hand that spanked it, going into a hyper enlargement that revealed microscopic beads of water bursting forth with each strike, and absorbing light from the orange orb of the setting sun and breaking the light down into the rainbow spectrum as they formed themselves into spiral galaxies. And then that drone was gone, its quad propellors unable to adjust to the sudden loss of a gravitational pull.

Marilee squealed at Chuck Malone’s violation in the other universe and turned to slap his face. He backed off, grinning, and she swam to the side of the pool, pulled her soaked self out onto the patio, and sloshed over to the picnic table to pour another margarita. She finished it in one huge gulp, Ruth and Juanita singing “Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug,” as the force from Clete and Juanita’s pool pulled her back across the barrier, where she remained high above the pool, taunting the drone that was now soaring toward the heavens.

Curiously, her trip to the alternate pool, the pinch from Chuck Malone, and the imbibing of the tart margarita had resulted in no passage of time.

Inside the house, Juanita, Ruth and Nadine refused to open the door for the men in the black suits, so the black suits did an end run and marched around to the side gate, where Clete was slapping the first slab of carne asada on the grill, as Ellis squeezed a lime wedge into his beer and the sun sank below the cool Pacific’s horizon, giving off the green flash, and Roger shouted at his wife, Marilee, to come down out of her geosynchronous orbit and fix herself another drink.

………………………………………………………………

About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Will Montague via a Creative Commons license.

 

Writers Read Presents T. Jefferson Parker


Reading from his new novel Crazy Blood

 

Date: Tuesday, April 12, from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook

T. Jefferson Parker's Crazy Blood
Crazy Blood is Fallbrook author T. Jefferson Parker’s second literary departure from his long line of award-winning crime novels and short stories, including three Edgar Award winners.

Like his acclaimed novel, Full Measure, in which a Marine returns from Afghanistan to his parents’ ranch in the fire-ravaged town of Fallbrook, California, Crazy Blood is also a story of family and the search for identity.

But what a family it is, a dynasty of crazy ski racers, carving the slopes of Mammoth Lakes in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.

Crazy Blood follows the third generation of a fatally conflicted clan of snow sports athletes and the brutal competition between two half-brothers, both Olympic hopefuls.

Parker has also written twenty crime novels, including the Charlie Hood Border Series. His books will be available for sale and signing.

Note: There will be no open mic at this reading.

For more information about Writers Read, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com.

 

Sci-fi author writes strong female characters


By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
JDLakeyColorSan Diego’s North Park neighborhood has a lot of history and diversity, some great galleries, microbreweries and restaurants—and plenty of gyms to compensate. Like most trendy city quarters, it also has a literary scene: closet writers who grumble across unshared pages about gentrification and rising rents, the audience-hungry who spin their tales at local open mics, and an occasional author who takes the bold plunge into the world of publishing. JD Lakey, a 13-year North Park denizen, is bold—in a quiet, writerly sort of way.

Author of a young adult sci-fi series, the five book Black Bead Chronicles, Lakey has managed to nestle into a nice writing life in the heart of North Park, a life that’s garnering some recognition. Opting for self-publishing, she and her illustrator—her daughter Dylan Drake—have made a splash on Amazon.com, achieving bestseller status in science fiction.

The path to success was a classically long and improbable journey: Lakey was born in Montana, in a region not known for boutiques and microbreweries, although it has its share of UFO sightings.

BlackBeadCover“I grew up on a big wheat and cattle farm—3,000 acres,” Lakey said in a recent interview. “I think it’s the source of most of my writing. You learn to accommodate infinite space—big sky, as they say—and it gives you fuel for thinking of strange ideas and things—science fiction, in my case. It’s hard to look up at the sky and see all the stars and not try to imagine the infinite variations of creation. You have to believe that there’s something more than yourself. You live in the city, and there’s all the street lights—it’s hard to describe to people how crazy that expanse is.”

But life yanked Lakey around a bit, and her first grandchild reeled her into North Park. Then, in 2008, she was laid off from her job. With “a lot of free time,” she decided to write a book. She wrote three of them.

“I think it’s the atmosphere,” she explained. “It’s an easy place to live, relaxed. I grab a notebook, go to Claire de Lune, and sketch away, write vignettes.”

Think J.K. Rowling scribbling the first Harry Potter book in an Edinburgh café, but replace Harry with a powerful female protagonist. Actually, think Hermione Granger instead of Harry. Cheobawn, Lakey’s main character, is a seven-year-old girl with her people’s psychic powers, living in a matriarchal society and pursuing a quest dependent on her gifts. Lakey’s stories have magic, a complex mythology, and her dedication to avoiding milquetoast females.

BhottasTearsCover“I’m 61, all the college educated women of my generation became witches in 1992, when Estés wrote Running with the Wolves—the powerful female thing. And the women who settled in Montana were crazy strong. My grandmother was college educated. She came out west and homesteaded with her brother. That’s a source of strength in my women characters that I want to emulate. All the women I knew growing up were kick-ass women. I don’t like Shakespeare because all his women are wusses. I want to write books I want to read, with characters I like.

“The story of Cheobawn, I’ve been writing that for 30 frickin’ years. It started out as a short story and everyone died in the end. It was bloody. I liked the possibilities of world building, but it was brutal. So I kept rewriting it, and she kept getting younger. It reminded me that innocence is a weapon, and the character can be strong in that respect—not physically strong, but emotionally strong. The West is littered with stories of really powerful women. Their stories don’t get told much, because Hollywood controls the storytelling.”

While the genesis for Lakey’s strong female characters might be found in Montana, it’s San Diego that will see her through the final books of the series.

“I love the weather—it always comes back to that,” she said. “I remember winters when it was 50 below. There’s a reason old people move south. But what I need to keep me writing is on the page, not outside.”

 

Lakey will be appearing at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, for a Local Author Meet & Greet, on Saturday, March 3, at 12 noon. The bookstore is at 5943 Balboa Avenue #100, San Diego.

You can also purchase books one and two of the series, Black Bead and Bhotta’s Tears, on Amazon in paperback and ebook. Book three, Spider Wars, will be released in April. For more information about the Black Bead Chronicles, visit the author’s website: jdlakey.com.

Originally published by San Diego Uptown News.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird


To Kill a Mockingbird

 

“He had to stoop a little to accommodate me, but if Miss Stephanie Crawford was watching from her upstairs window, she would see Arthur Radley escorting me down the sidewalk, as any gentleman would do. … I entered the Radley front gate for the second time in my life. Boo and I walked up the steps to the porch. His fingers found the front doorknob. He gently released my hand, opened the door, went inside, and shut the door behind him. I never saw him again.”

 

– From To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

April 28, 1926 to February 19, 2016

 

 

Writers Read Presents, on February 9, 2016



WordOfPower

Poet and Novelist Jon Wesick 


Reading and discussing


Poetry: Words of Power, Dances of Freedom

Novels: Hunger for Annihilation and Yellow Lines    

 

 

Hunger

 

 

Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, February 9, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

 

 

YellowLinesHost of the Gelato Poetry Series in San Diego, author of the poetry collection Words of Power, Dances of Freedom and two novels, Hunger for Annihilation and Yellow Lines, Jon Wesick has published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl and Slipstream. An editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, he has also published nearly a hundred short stories, one of which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts.

 

For more information, contact Kit-Bacon Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

Lava


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

JalapenoPeppersClete had the feeling he’d made the chili a bit too hot, so he called his buddy Ellis in from the patio, where the two men had been drinking beer and listening to the pool filter sigh, and told him to test out a spoonful of the fiery goop.

Ellis slurped some up, dropped the spoon, sucked in a huge gulp of air, clutched his chest, and staggered backwards, bellowing. Then he swung around and punched the refrigerator, lifting it six inches off the floor and leaving a dent in the white metal deep enough to hide a cantaloupe.

The ice dispenser hemorrhaged, a cascade of cold cubes spilling forth with a clatter. Ellis scooped up two big handfuls and stuffed them into his mouth, then barreled through the house and out the sliding glass door, charged across the patio, and dove in to the pool, face first.

Clete used the side of his foot to sweep a path through the scattered ice cubes and walked over to peer out the doorway. Ellis spouted like a whale, ice cubes flying, sparkling in the sun like diamonds as they rose to their zeniths then plunked down into the turquoise water.

Clete walked back to the kitchen, thinking: Maybe a few too many jalapeños.

The chili, as he took another look, was bubbling up over the sides of the pot, flowing across the stove top and down onto the floor like lava, hissing and smoldering, catching fire in places.

Definitely too many jalapeños, he mused, as the doorbell rang. He strolled out to answer it, and found two young men in polo shirts who wanted to know if he’d be interested in solar power.

“No, not really,” he said. “But, hey, can you do me a favor, and come in here and take a taste of this chili I just made, let me know if I made it too hot?”

Back in the kitchen, the refrigerator continued to spew ice cubes onto the floor, while the chili sizzled and popped and flared up, setting the smoke alarm to wailing.

………………………………………………….
About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

 

Writers Read Presents T. Jefferson Parker


December 8, 2015 at Fallbrook Library

 

T. Jefferson ParkerJeffParkerMug

 

with the paperback release of Full Measure

 

and an exclusive reading from his new thriller Crazy Blood

 

FullMeasurePreceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, December 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

T. Jefferson Parker, three-time Edgar Award winner, is the author of the celebrated novel, Full Measure, available in paperback December 1—in time for holiday gift-giving. Marine Patrick Norris returns from Afghanistan to find his hometown, Fallbrook, recovering from a wildfire; his parents facing a devastated CrazyBloodavocado ranch;  and his troubled brother, struggling with his own battles.

Jeff will give an exclusive reading of an excerpt from his new thriller, Crazy Blood, to be released in March 2016. A volatile family feud carves the slopes at the Mammoth Cup ski race, an Olympics qualifier.

Jeff has also written twenty crime novels, including the acclaimed Charlie Hood Border Series. His books will be available for sale and signing.

For more information about Writers Read, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

The Ongoing Saga of Clete and Juanita’s Pool, Part 3: Fishing


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

 

[Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.]

 

Dan Lampro, the Real Estate Guy, rolled into the Loma Alta Café on a Tuesday at lunch time and asked for a chicken salad sandwich on wheat bread, toasted, and a long tall iced tea.

Ellis Leahy whipped up the sandwich, snugged a dill pickle wedge up against the crusty bread and piled on some French fries, then laid the plate on the service shelf, rang the bell and yelled out: “ORDER UP, MONA!”

Mona delivered the meal.

The famished Dan Lampro bit into his sandwich and found on his first bite, with his upper left bicuspid, a chicken bone that broke off a very expensive porcelain crown. He spit the crown and the chicken bone into his hand and used his tongue to probe empty space in his dentition. Then he jumped up and bellowed his outrage, demanding the head of the cook who had caused this dental mishap.

Mohammed, the café’s owner, afraid of a lawsuit, fired Ellis Leahy on the spot.

That night, Clete and Juanita Johnson threw an impromptu party to celebrate the “retirement” of their friend and next door neighbor, Ellis Leahy.

“Hangin’ up the spatula,” Ellis said of his walking out of his grill cook job at the Loma Alta Café.

Clete, wielding his own spatula, flipped a burger on the barbecue. Beef fat dropped down onto hot coals. Fire flared, and Ellis took off his shirt and walked to the pool, where he leaped from the water’s edge and curled himself into a cannonball. But instead of producing a cannonball splash, he rose into the air over the pool and rotated on his axis like a fleshy planetoid in a synchronous orbit over the turquoise water. An orbit was not what he wanted, so he blossomed out of his tight, arms-hugging-his-knees configuration and swam, in the air, down to the bulging surface, to dig himself forcefully into the cool water.

That’s how things were in Clete and Juanita’s back yard. God had done the initial excavation for the pool, via a blazing meteorite that had gouged out a nice-sized divot, leaving a sub-surface detritus of extraterrestrial metal and stone that created a localized alteration of the laws of gravity, even after the crater had been lined with cement and filled with water.

anchoviesAfter the party, Ellis’ wife Ruth told him there was no way he was going to sit around watching T.V. all day, retired or not. He needed a hobby. Ellis decided on fishing, something he’d enjoyed in his youth, the long hours loafing with a line in the water off this seaside town’s pier. He still had his gear, fiberglass rods dusty in a cobwebbed corner of his garage, an old metal tackle box in his closet, and a couple of reels boxed and protected in plastic food storage bags in drawer of the work bench.

The fish bite early, or so they say, so Ellis rolled out of bed at 6 a.m., kissed the still slumbering Ruth goodbye and pointed the car toward the shore, with twenty-two ounces of hot coffee in a travel mug. He fancied a spot at the end of the pier, the northeast corner, the furthest from the shoreline.

With dawn painting a fiery rainbow in the eastern sky, Ellis located the spot from which he’d fished as a young man, and encountered ten unmanned fishing poles, their lines not yet in the water, leaning against the rail.

He moved them, clearing out a spot, and before he could tie a hook to his line, a small, scruffy man in a battered straw hat, looking as if he lived under a park bench, sidled up and said, “What are you doing touching my fishing poles?”

Ellis said, “If I see some knucklehead usin’ ten poles, Jethro, I’m gonna move ’em outta my way. You’re lucky I didn’t throw ’em over the goddamned side.”

Suddenly, Jethro multiplied, became as if by magic a small pack of rumpled, dissolute-looking, begrimed hobos who gave off a collective smell of sour sweat, old fish and cigarettes, as they moved in on Ellis from their pier-end encampment, smiling their mean smiles that featured an alarming paucity of teeth.

“How ’bout we throw you over the side, slick?” said the ten pole man.

This didn’t seem to Ellis like a rhetorical question. It wasn’t. The guys converged and shuffled Ellis to the railing and over it, into a drop in the direction of the deep blue sea. But he never got there. His initially fast fall slowed to the velocity of the gentle downward drift of a soap bubble on a windless day and stopped a foot and a half above the water. Ellis bounced on the surface tension of the ocean like a man on a trampoline, the residual effect of his previous night’s contact with the crater that had become Clete and Juanita Johnson’s pool, the anti-gravitational aspect of yesterday’s encounter having soaked into the marrow of his bones. So Ellis bounced and then he began to climb.

He envisioned a stairway and started his ascent with a purposeful circuitousness, showing off with several unnecessary turns, rising a foot with every stair step, then losing four inches with each, as if the invisible stairs were deeply cushioned. His roundabout ascent eventually brought him to the top of the railing, where he descended in four small steps to the surface of the pier.

The hobos stood gape-mouthed. Several of them lit up cigarettes. One of them took a hit off a small black flask, which he then passed around.

Ellis pushed the ten poles further off to the side, fixed himself up with a sinker and a hook, and took a salted anchovy from a small plastic bucket that sat by the ten poles. He hooked the dead fish through the eyes and dropped his line into the water, as Ten Pole man hoisted himself to the rail top, in preparation for a jump that he thought would go the way Ellis Leahy’s had.

“Don’t even try it, Jethro,” Ellis said, jerking his pole upward in reaction to a nibble on the line. “You ain’t got the mojo I got.”

“I got mojo comin’ out my ass, butthead,” said Jethro, and, to prove it, he jumped, curled his scrawny ass into a cannonball, and exploded into the ocean, as Ellis had tried to explode into the pool the night before.

……………………………………………..

About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: John Lodder via a Creative Commons license.

Short Stack


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

 

pancakesJohanna wrinkled her nose at the old cook’s short stack. Through the steam rising off the plate on the service shelf window, ready for delivery, she said that the three pancakes (five cakes are a full stack here at the Loma Alta Café) were supposed to be placed precisely one on top of the other, not splayed like a hand of playing cards.

“That’s why it’s called a ‘stack,'” she said, framing an imaginary stack with two parallel index fingers, one three inches above the other.

“I think it looks better this way,” the cook, Ellis, said. “They’re arced around the scrambled eggs, and take up more room on the plate, so it doesn’t look so empty.”

“What part of the word ‘stack’ do you not understand?” Mona, Johanna’s co-waitress, wanted to know.

“What part of ‘take the order out or I’ll bounce my foot off your butt?’ don’t you understand?” Ellis replied.

This didn’t sit well with Johanna. She picked up, with her fingers, the melting scoop of butter on top of the splayed pancakes and threw it at Ellis, hitting him in the forehead, as Mona sidled in with a fresh ticket for the cook’s order wheel and laughed at the scene. So Ellis plucked up the diminishing butter glob as it slid off his nose and tossed it at her. It hit on her bare collar bone, above the square cut of the front of her waitress dress, before sliding out of site.

Mona looked at the greasy trail on her flesh and called Ellis a son-of-bitch, as Johanna burst through the swinging door into the kitchen and wrestled the old cook into a bent-at-the-waist headlock and marched him toward the deep sink to dunk his head.

Mona followed her in there. She picked up the aerosol whipped cream can that Ellis used for the strawberry pancakes and, blocking the Johanna-Ellis deep sink shuffle, applied to the head of Ellis Leahy—that was still wrapped snugly in the crook of the elbow of Johanna—a frothy snow-white bouquet, emptying the can before she stepped around and kicked him in the ass at the exact moment that Johanna let him go.

It was a kick as powerful as a mule’s. It sent Ellis sliding like an ice skater through the swinging kitchen door into the dining room of the Loma Alta Café, his head fully encased in a blinding whiteness.

He skidded to a stop and stood, sightless, arms out, trying to acertain his location. Then, as he moved his hands to wipe his eyes, Mona bustled by with the coffee pot, and set in place a strawberry nose for the guy who would be known for months around those parts as “The Whipped Cream Man.”

…………………………………….

About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Learning Lark vis a Creative Commons license.

 

French Toast


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

 

Mona strode through the café with the coffee pot, an eye out for half-full mugs. As she topped off the cup of a construction worker-looking guy on table eight, she felt a tap on her hip, from the fingertips of a thirtyish blonde lady at table nine, by the entrance. The lady wanted to know if the French toast that Mona’s co-waitress, Johanna, had delivered ten minutes before, could possibly be any colder.

Yes, it could be, Mona thought. I could stick it in the freezer for five minutes. Then it would be colder. But she said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I’ll have the cook heat it up for you.”

frenchtoastShe plucked up the offensive meal and beelined for the service window, where she clunked the plate next to the order wheel and said to Ellis, the cook, “Hey, numb nuts, you wanna heat this up a little? Lady says she doesn’t like cold French toast.”

“Oh yeah? Well I don’t like mouthy waitresses, but I put up with ’em.”

Mona gave him a look that would have wilted a lesser man.

Ellis was undeterred. “Did you tell her it was cold because she sat there yakking on her cell phone for fifteen minutes after Johanna delivered it?”

“Just make me a fresh order, jack ass,” Mona hissed.

“Yeah. Right,” Ellis said to her back as she stepped out into the dining room to tell the French-toast lady that the cook would have her order—piping hot this time—right out.

The lady, who had resumed her cell phone use, gave Mona a quick nod and dismissive little wave of her fingers.

Ellis should have made a fresh order. The French toast that Mona had brought back was soaked in syrup that had dissolved the snow flake effect of the powdered sugar. But Ellis, gazing out at the offending woman whose mouth was now running in high gear again, sending communications of the highest importance bouncing off an orbiting satellite, decided he’d just put the tepid breakfast in the microwave and nuke the living shit out of it.

Mona returned, looked at the plate and protested. “This is the same French toast.” She wrinkled her nose at the steaming dish on the service window. “You didn’t make a fresh order.”

“So,” said Ellis.

The syrup, under the influence of three minutes in the microwave, had lost it viscosity. It was now a watery brown fluid bubbling virulently atop the French toast and on the plate beside it, tinting to a rich coffee color the flesh on the decorative slice of orange that Ellis added to the dish.

”There’s a bite out of it,” Mona said, her face crinkling into a grimace of disgust.

“It’s her bite,” Ellis said, nodding at the cell phone lady. “It won’t hurt her.”

“What a class act you are, what a five star chef.” Mona huffed. She picked up the plate and then dropped it immediately. It had soaked up the heat of the microwaved food and treated her to a painful burn. She mumbled “mother-something” at Ellis around the stinging finger she had stuck in her mouth, then folded a napkin to use as a hot pad, and carried the scalding meal out toward table nine.

A folded napkin is not a very effective hot pad. The heat, as Mona strode from the service window, bled through the paper. This increased her pace. She had achieved a screaming, full-on sprint by the time she approached table nine.

The cell phone lady, catching movement in her peripheral vision, turned to see the banshee-wailing waitress barreling at her. It looked like an imminent assault. She screamed, and Mona dropped the plate on her table. The cell phone lady took the scream into another dimension as the syrup—having regained a 30-weight, oil-like consistency on its brisk journey across the café—splattered dew-sized droplets of the sticky goop onto the lady’s face, and sloshed the caramelizing orange slice flip-flopping into the air and hitting the frightened woman in the cleft of the v-neck of her powder blue blouse as she rose from her chair, sticking between her breasts.

She dropped her cell phone and let out a whoop that shattered her empty water glass, as Mona reached out and peeled that burning half-moon of orange—along with a layer of skin—off the woman’s blistering sternum, leaving a scar the would not pale, and eventually found itself incorporated into a stylish, provocative tattoo.

…………………………………….
About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

 

Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents Author Charles Degelman


Discussing

A Bowl Full of Nails and Gates of Eden

Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

Date: Tuesday, August 11, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

CharlieDegelmanGatesEdenCharles Degelman is an author, editor and educator living in Los Angeles. His first novel, Gates of Eden, is a 1960s story of resistance, rebellion and love. The book garnered a silver medal from the 2012 Independent Publishers Book Awards. A Bowl Full of Nails, published earlier this year by Harvard Square Editions, is set in the counterculture of the 1970s. It was a finalist in the Bellwether Competition, sponsored by Barbara Kingsolver.

After graduating Harvard, Degelman left academia to become an antiwaBowlNailsr activist, political theater artist, musician, communard, carpenter, hard-rock miner, and itinerant gypsy trucker. When the dust settled, he returned to his first love, writing. In the 1990s he was swept up by the film world and the burgeoning digital industry where he wrote and produced documentary and educational films for TNT, Churchill Films, Pyramid Films, Philips Interactive Media and others. Titles include a feature-length biography of filmmaker John Huston for TNT and an award-winning biography of Mozart for Philips Interactive.

Charlie’s books will be available for sale and signing.

For more information about Writers Read, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

 

 

The Saga of Clete and Juanita’s Pool, Part 2


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

Read Part 1, “The Possibilities of Zero G,” here.

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 1.28.31 PM

A U.S. government satellite flies over Clete and Juanita Johnson’s house. Regularly. It’s spying.

A half a decade earlier, a meteorite plowed into the Johnson’s backyard, and, though the space rock proved itself legitimate—a mystery stone from somewhere deep in the cosmos—the specter of terrorism was still on Uncle Sam’s mind, fed by the facts that the laws of gravity had changed in the airspace over the resulting crater and that the dense rocks sifted from the hole by the Astronomy Department of the University of California San Diego and then confiscated by the Department of Homeland Security, would—on a schedule as yet undetermined—rise up from the steel tables and float around the government’s secret research lab. After the hoopla of the meteorite strike had died down—society has a very short collective attention span—Clete had a swimming pool put in, at a discount since the hole had been dug for him—by God, he would say with a wink and a grin.

The pictures from the spy satellite have been revelatory: Ellis Leahy, the Johnson’s next door neighbor, stepping onto the pool’s surface and walking across the water, from one side to the other, to get his beer from the ice chest beside Clete’s barbecue; the Johnson’s Chihuahua, Ginger, leaping off the diving board and soaring over the turquoise water like a sparrow; Ruth, Ellis’s wife, along with her friend Juanita, rising up from the pool cloaked in a shimmering, wobbling globe of chlorinated water that breaks into a million small globules and drops softly back to the surface, along with the ladies; and the pool itself, all thousands of gallon of water pulling up like a gob of taffy, then exploding into a universe of debris that forms itself out of its entropy into stars and galaxies and solar systems filled with planets—some of them harboring life—before collapsing in on itself and dropping back home into the cement-lined crater in the Johnson’s backyard.

All of this had been observed and recorded, but the thing that lit a fire under the Homeland Security guys and got them out from behind their computers and into “the field” with their cameras, was the pool party hosted by Megan Leahy and Evangeline “Vangie’ Johnson, the plans for which were discovered via intercepted text messages.

Megan and Vangie, daughters of Ruth and Ellis and Clete and Juanita, respectively, both of them pushing hard at thirty years of age, shared a childhood as next door neighbors. Now they share an apartment on the east side of Loma Alta, in what has come to be known as Posole Town. They also share a profession: cocktail waitressing at competing Indian casinos in the North San Diego backcountry.

When Vangie found out her parents, Clete and Juanita, were headed to Las Vegas, via a text message from her mother, she texted Megan in a casino-to-casino message, in all capital letters: MOM AND DAD VEGAS BOUND. POOL PARTY THIS WEEKEND, SWIM SUITS OPTIONAL!!!

So the Feds, who’d been listening, sent a SWAT Team to the party, and from their surveillance vantage points—high in a eucalyptus tree in the ravine behind Clete and Juanita’s house and another from the canopy of a sycamore just up the hill—they observed bacchanalian goings on: hard drinking, nudity in the pool, various pairings disappearing to the house for suspected couplings, and finally a huge and gelatinous ball of the cool water pulling up out of its source with a dozen partiers in its embrace, their bodies bare, slightly magnified and distorted, wavering, enjoying a salubrious respite from the maladies of gravity.

The Fed guys decided against a manned assault. Instead, they sent a drone in with a bomb. It pierced the glob of water and exited the far side on an altered trajectory that took it over the fence into the airspace over Ruth and Ellis Leahy’s yard, its soaked explosive nullified. The water-logged motors sputtered and coughed and died before the craft crashed into the back of the Leahy’s house with no explosion, just minor damage to the stucco from the impact. Simultaneously, the globe of water broke into a dozen separate entities, each containing a single human. The Feds got this on film, illuminated by their powerful search lights, making each levitating person appear to be wrapped in a bio-luminescent cocoon that dropped softly back into the swimming pool to merge once again into a collective.

Ruth Leahy, on the other side of the fence, came out to investigate the crash against her wall. She’d heard it over the TV that she’d turned up to drown out the sound of the party, a soiree that she knew was being hosted by her Megan and Clete and Juanita’s Vangie—she’d seen their cars in the driveway next door. She thought somebody at the party had thrown a full beer can over the fence, as people will, but she discovered the drone, one that didn’t look like it was set up to deliver her DeNio’s pizza or Ellis’ Walmart Viagra. It had ominous wires and a black box that might as well have had the word “bomb” written on it. She called 911. The local police sent in the bomb squad.

Next door, the party dissipated, a wet blanket thrown on its fervor by the Fed’s search lights, their invasive drone, and the arrival of the police.

The water in Clete and Juanita’s pool glimmered silently, at rest for the time being.

And the film that the Fed guys took was leaked. It showed up on YouTube, got millions of hits, and was almost immediately dismissed as a hoax by all but a few wild-eyed and paranoid crackpots.

……………………………………………..
About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Satellite image via Google Maps.

 

Juanita Gets a New Tattoo


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

Clete always told Juanita that she shouldn’t drive with Ginger sitting on her lap.

Juanita always answered him with: “So, what am I supposed to do, get her a car seat?”

Somewhere, somebody has invented a car seat for a Chihuahua, Clete thought, so he said, “Yeah, I think you should.”

DogSeat

Get your canine seating enhancement mechanism today

Juanita checked Amazon. There were several varieties of pet safety/booster seats available. She chose the cheapest one: $18.95 plus tax, shipping and handling. It arrived five days later, but it wouldn’t fit in Clete and Juanita’s mailbox, so the mail lady left a note that they could pick up their package at the post office.

On Ginger’s last untethered ride, to pick up the safety seat, with Clete riding shotgun, Juanita—slowing to under five miles per hour for the red light—rear-ended a Lexus at the corner of Loma Alta Boulevard and College Avenue, causing her airbag to go off. This blasted Ginger from Juanita’s lap into her abdomen, and it caused the lady driving the Lexus to exit her barely damaged vehicle, limp over to the grass on the curb strip in front of the Starbucks, lie down, and cry the blues about a surely fictitious back injury, Clete figured.

He jumped out from behind his own airbag, strode down the curb strip and ordered the Lexus lady to get her faking ass up off the grass or he’d kick her.

She moaned louder and demanded an ambulance, as the coffee drinkers poured out of the Starbucks like ants, cell phone cameras rolling, just in time to catch Clete kicking not the Lexus lady but instead, in frustration, one of the curb strip sprinkler heads, knocking it free and inciting a geyser that soaked the Lexus lady in short order and had her up and cursing at Clete, as her own dog, who had ridden, as did Ginger, on her mistress’s lap—and who hadn’t suffered from airbag trauma—went snapping after that vertical flow with her little terrier jaws, too dim to realize that it wasn’t a solid object she was trying to bite.

Ginger, staggering out from under the airbag and off Juanita’s lap, hopped onto the sidewalk, focused on the water-attacking terrier and thought to herself: “My God, what a stupid little dog.”

Juanita, still behind the wheel, pushed the deflated bag aside and pulled her blouse up to reveal on the smooth skin of her belly the imprint of Ginger, head thrown back, teeth bared, like a highly-detailed fossil imprinted in her flesh, a tattoo-like tracing of some small, spindly, needle-fanged dinosaur.

I wonder if I can get this inked in? Juanita thought, as Clete grappled on the grass with the Lexus lady and the cell phone folks filmed the tussle, providing proof that there was nothing wrong with that woman’s back.

…………………………………..
About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

Photo credit: Chris Forsyth via a Creative Commons License.

Writers Read at Fallbrook Library Presents


May 12, 2015

Emerging Author Beth Newcomer

Discussing

The Art of the Short Story


Preceded by open mic for original poetry and prose

BethHeadshot_2_031715Date: Tuesday, May 12, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
Location: Fallbrook Library, 124 S Mission, Fallbrook, 760-731-4650

Beth Escott Newcomer is a Pushcart-prize nominee for her short story “Tightrope,” published in The Sand Hill Review in 2013. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in many literary publications, including The Alembic, Stickman ReviewThe Tulane Review and Diverse Voices Quarterly, which published her story “All She Wanted,” a Best of the Net nominee in 2013.

Beth grew up on Normal Avenue in Normal, Illinois, but now lives in Fallbrook, California. To support her writing habit, she manages the Southern California-based graphic design firm she founded and helps promote her family’s cacti and succulent nursery. Two little white dogs follow her everywhere she goes.

Beth’s short story monographs will be available for sale and signing, for $5 each.

For more information, contact K-B Gressitt at kbgressitt@gmail.com or 760-522-1064.

Women In Words: Clete’s Procedure


A Short Story by
Dan McClenaghan

aboutc7Juanita insisted that Clete get a colonoscopy. He was sixty years old and had never had one, for God’s sake, and no telling what sort of malignant mischief was brewing in the depths of his bowels. His former excuse, that they couldn’t afford it, no longer applied. He’d picked up a federal job, hired on thanks to a boyhood friend, Danny Lopez, the supervisor at the mess hall at the Naval Hospital on the Marine Corps Base just north of town. Now Clete, a proud dishwasher, had honest-to-God medical coverage, and the next thing he knew he was fasting for forty hours, then drinking a gallon of a vile and sulfurous concoction so noxious that, after the second glass he, dubbed it “The Devil’s Piss,” a beverage that caused him, over a very nasty four hour period, to shit out everything in his torso, including, it seemed, his liver and his lungs.

That done, Juanita drove him to the clinic, his innards grumbling from the necessary starvation that preceded the chemical assault on his digestive system. “Hungry like a bastard,” he moaned to his wife, and when they passed an In-N-Out Burger featuring a man walking out the front door to his car with a white paper bag, laden, from the looks of it, with a Double-Double and an order of fries, Clete took a long look at the man and his food and broke down and cried the rest of the ride to the hospital.

He checked in at the clinic, and they gave him the dreaded tie-in-the back gown, set him up on a hospital bed, and rolled him onto his side. He noticed that the person behind him was a man, and he pondered that—even given the embarrassment factor—he’d have preferred a woman doing this job. He couldn’t imagine a man having the suppleness of touch, the empathy, the nuanced dexterity to make this thing as easy and as comfortable as possible. And the dude was as big as a professional wrestler, fingers the size off knockwursts, Clete noticed, as that scope in those giant hands left Clete’s peripheral vision and poked deeply, smoothy into his ass.

The sedation they’d given him—considering Clete’s anxiety level—proved inadequate. He lurched up and jumped off that hospital bed, yowling like a spanked Chihuahua. He hit the ground at a full run, a panicked sprint that stayed in place for three seconds until his stocking-ed feet caught traction on the linoleum floor. And then he was gone. …

Juanita was reading a Stephen King book in the waiting room when Clete burst through the door, knees pumping high, gown riding up his skinny thighs, three feet of the embedded scope’s tube whipping out behind him as he dashed bug-eyed by her and out the clinic’s door.

And perhaps it was a good thing it had been a man with that scope, because—at the risk of rolling into sexist territory—a woman might not have been able to chase the escapee down and tackle him in the parking lot, and carry him—arms and legs thrashing, tail lashing—back though the waiting room to the hospital bed, to administer a more robust level of sedation and complete the procedure that Juanita had insisted he get.
………………………
About Dan McClenaghan

DanMcClenaghanMugI write stuff.

I began with my Ruth and Ellis/Clete and Juanita stories in the early 1980s. At the beginning of the new millennium I started writing reviews of jazz CDs, first at American Reporter, and then (and now) at All About Jazz. I’ve tried my hand at novels, without success.

I’ve been published in a bunch of small presses, most notably the now defunct Wormwood Review. This was in the pre-computer age, when we whomped up our stories on typewriters, then rolled down to Kinkos to make copies, which we stuck in manila envelopes, along with a return envelope with return postage attached. Times have changed.

Aside from the writing, I am married to the lovely Denise. We have three wonderful children and five beautiful grandchildren; and I am a two-time winner—1970 and 1971—of the Oceanside Bodysurfing Contest. Kowabunga!

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