Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Shot in the Dark

Okay, you know the scenario: you've got work to do.  You've promised yourself you'd write 5,000 words in your manuscript, or that you'd crank out most of that article you need to write, or you'd generate that summary report you've been promising to get done, by the end of the day.  But every time you try to start that process, something comes up.  You've got emails to answer; you've got someone IM'ing you, and hey, you can't be rude to them.  You're just going to go see that one teensy little web site, just for one second, not too long.  Maybe a quick game of Spider Solitaire will help me focus.  You know the deal.

Problem is, that "one quick" thing ends up being a few hours of lost time, and before you know it, you're way behind and you've got a Frosty's chance in Puerto Rico of making that deadline you set for yourself, or worse yet, the one imposed on you by someone else (like, say, your boss or that literary agent you're paying).  What do you do?

Well, I can't help you with the current crisis, but I can help you with future ones.  How about a program that blocks out all the distractions you face, all the nagging little time-thieves, and lets you focus just on what you're trying to get done -- write?

I have just the tool for you: JDarkRoom. 

As usual, I'm a bit behind the times on this, but like I said, I'm a software junkie and I love to fool with new toys.  For me, this is a relatively new toy, and I thought I'd pass on what I've found, even if it is old news.

JDarkRoom is a full-screen, streamlined text editing program that doesn't do anything except keep you focused on what you're writing.  It's a nifty little program that has a lot of great features, and none of the distractions, of a full-blown word processor.

The first great thing about JDarkRoom is that it's full-screen; that means nothing -- and I mean nothing -- else is visible to your screen.  Not the task bar, not the system tray, not the clock ... nothing.  Only the editor is in your face.  There isn't even a scroll bar for you to move up and down the page; you have to do that with PgUp and PgDn (or Page Up and Page Down) keys.

There is no menu, no icon bar, no status bar and no title bar.  Just you and the screen.

The second great thing about it is, the editor is a monochrome background with a single type face.  That is to say, you can choose the font color and the background color, and to some degree you can choose the font, but that's it for formatting options.  There is no bold, italics or underline option.  There is no changing the color of a single word or paragraph.  You can't use blockquotes.  All you can do is write.

What's so great about that?  Well, I know that, as a writer, I have a tendency to work and re-work my work (how much work would a woodwork work if a woodwork could work work?) over and over again, and I kind of like playing with fonts and colors and layouts depending on my mood.  But that's a time-killer, and before long, I've spent more time working the font and layout than writing.  JDarkRoom eliminates that distraction for me by simply not allowing it.

Additionally, it forces me to think about what I'm saying, and forget about how I say it or what it looks like.  I can focus on the structure and word choice instead of whether this should be emphasized or if I should bold that.  I just write, say what I want to communicate, and if I still feel it needs work, I can do that with other tools.  It forces me to get the writing done and forget about the other fluff.  It's all meat, baby.

Next, the software starts as a black background with a putrid, hideous green font, like a dumb terminal from years ago.  While I like the black background, it's not for everyone.  My wife doesn't care for it, for instance.  And, I can control it if it ever gets on my nerves and choose something softer, more friendly.   But I like it for now.  The foreground (or font) color is customizable with a nice selection of colors (although not infinitely so as it is in some applications), so I can change it as my mood shifts.  I like using an amber colored font against my black screen.

The next thing that's really cool is the fact that there is just a single column of text on the screen.  No tables, no bullet points, no numbered lists (which means it's not really suitable for every job); just the single column of text.  Because the text isn't spread over your entire screen, you can read what you've written -- or ask someone else to do so -- without the ol' swivel-head syndrome.  If you're old enough to remember the original, DOS-based text editors, they put the text all over the screen, and your eyes were forced to wander far and wide to read it all.  With JDarkRoom, you can control the column width, and keep your sanity and your focus at the same time.  Nice.

Finally, JDarkRoom has the ability to present you with word/character/line counts with a single keystroke, so if your goal is to generate a certain number of words for your manuscript to keep you (or get you back) on track, you can mark your progress along the way.  I use that feature a lot, because as I write short stories, I don't want them to balloon too much.  If the word count is really high, I can go back and see where I can re-word and re-work the text to say the same thing and be less wordy.  (I bet, at this point, you wish Windows Live Writer had that functionality too, so that I'd put a lid on it already.)

If you've stuck with me this far, then you're probably interested in seeing JDarkRoom for yourself.  I would recommend that.  If you're a writer, or if you do writing on a computer on a regular basis, JDarkRoom is a tool you should at least have tried.  It's amazing how well you can concentrate and get the job at hand accomplished without all the bells, whistles and distractions of a full-blown word processor.  It's like sitting in a dark room and telling a tale, and hence the name.

A couple of caveats, however, and a bit of history:

JDarkRoom is the by-product of a program called DarkRoom, which is a Windows-based attempt to copy a program for Mac called WriteRoom.   They all share a lot of commonality, and are essentially the same thing.  I'm recommending JDarkRoom because all of my readers (all three or four of you) may not be using the same platform.  If you're a Windows user (Linux and Mac people, please keep your comments and snide remarks to yourself), then you may want to try DarkRoom instead.  You'll need the Windows .NET framework installed if it's not already on your PC for another program, and it's available for free from Microsoft.  Do a search for it on Microsoft's web site and you'll find it.  I do not, however, know whether framework 2.0 or 3.0 will create problems for the app.  Use that one at your own risk, because I can't speak to it.  Mac users, if you're not using WriteRoom, try it or JDarkRoom; your computers already came loaded with the necessary components for it.

Okay, back to Windows users: to run JDarkRoom, you'll need Java installed.  This is the "J" in JDarkRoom.  Being Java-based, that makes sense.  It also makes the utility cross-platform, and I run it portably on a USB flash drive so it goes with me wherever I go.  If I'm someplace where only a Mac is available, I can run it, as well as on a Linux distro, provided that distro has Java installed.  Java, however, is not small.  It takes up a chunk of space on the PC's drive, so be aware of that.  Once it's installed, though, it runs quickly and smoothly, and I have no issues with using it at all.  Some folks were talking, at least last year, about DarkRoom's bugs, but I haven't found any in JDarkRoom through my limited use of it.

If you like what I've said so far, and want to try this out (come on, you know you do), you can download the application, and get more information about it's features and requirements, here.

Happy focused, concentrated, undistracted writing, y'all.  Can't wait to see what you produce.


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Monday, July 30, 2007

Confessions of a Junkie ...

Psst!  C'mere ... I gotta tellya somethin', and I don' wan' everbody and their uncle ta hear.


I've become hooked, and hooked deep.  It's really, really bad.

It's quite true; I'm addicted to blogging.

Okay ... so maybe not just to blogging.  I love writing, and I do it every chance I get, whether I'm supposed to be doing it or not.   Kinda like right now, for instance.

It's not that I don't love blogging -- believe me, I do.  But there are so many other, better bloggers out there to read and enjoy, I just don't think of myself as one of them.  But, my Lord, I do love to write.  Fiction, mostly, but I can prattle on uselessly about anything.  Sometimes I like to put up a journal entry.  This particular piece of literary gold you're enjoying now would loosely fall under that category, although I've been more revealing and intimate with information before.  This is just a ... well, it's kind of just an excuse to write ... as if I need one.

Maybe it's because I just like the sound of my own voice in my head, chattering away endlessly about anything that floats through the soggy gray matter.  Maybe it's because I have a big mouth and can talk a blue streak, and writing is just another verbose expression outlet.  Maybe it's because I have so much wonderful information to share with the world that I can't just let it sit between my ears and rot ... okay, that last one's not likely, but you get the general idea.  In the final analysis, I think the answer probably is just that I love writing, I fancy myself fairly capable of it, and I do it every chance I get.

The other thing that I'm addicted to is software that helps me do it.  I'm willing to bet that a fairly large percentage of bloggers just blog in their blog site's interface, or maybe use a word processor for the more powerful spelling- and grammar-checking capabilities, and then copy and paste into as many blogs as they need to.  Uh-uh, not me.  That was not even close to good enough.  I wanted a blogging client, one that would make the posting process easy and effective and let me post to multiple blogs from a single piece of software without having to involve the computer's virtual clipboard even once.

That turned out to be easier than I imagined.  As a Johnny-come-lately to blogging -- at least in any serious way -- I didn't know that such animals had been around for some time.  But once I did find out, boy, I was all over all of them I could get my hands on.

Some of them were web-based; some were browser-extensions.  Some where based on ad insertion capabilities, so that you could "generate income" from your blog.  And some of them weren't free (most were, though).  I downloaded and tried them all.

Since I'm still using, for the moment, a PC powered by Windows (or "Windoze" or "Windhose" or whatever else the Linux/Unix crowd wants to call it), I had to limit myself to the several varieties that were available for that platform.  In addition, I didn't really care for the feel of the browser extensions.  I wanted the capability of doing my work offline, saving it as a draft, and posting when I have the time and inclination.  So, I could eliminate a few more possibilities that way.

By now, the field was getting pretty narrow.  I had to find one that worked with all my various blog sites (WordPress, the new Atom-powered Blogger, LiveJournal and finally a MS Live Spaces site, too) and post to all of them with relative ease.  I also wanted a WYSIWYG editor.  I know, I know ... technical people should lean towards better markup than that.  But I'm interested in writing, not scripting code, so I wanted it to be fast and easy to make things look good on my blog.

I'm a stickler for control over my white space and since a lot of what I write is fiction, I want to use that space to assist with control over my readers' pacing.  I do that with line breaks and punctuation, and I didn't want to have to experiment with my (very) rusty HTML to learn to do it.  Or worse yet, have to learn an as-yet alien markup system like XML or XHTML to do it.  I didn't want a new language skill, I wanted to write.  The interface, therefore, had to be efficient, intuitive and understandable.  Don't jargon me.

Another aspect of my search was ease of configuration.  I'm a technical support guy, but I don't have a lot of experience with networking, particularly as it concerns the web.  So I don't know the terminology, I don't know what things out there do what, and I don't know how to communicate with my blog site's servers and their addresses.  I just know that I go to the site, I click on "New Post" or something like that, and I start typing.  I check spelling and post.  I wanted that same simplicity from my blogging client, so it couldn't be a science experiment to get it configured to use with my blogs.

With all of that in mind, the final piece was that I wanted it to be portable.  That is, if the application can be run from a USB flash drive, I'm in hog heaven.  It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it's a deal-maker for sure, if it's there.

That left me with a few options, but I was heart-broken to find that my favorite client wasn't portable-capable.

Okay, so, the clients I tried were:

  • Qumana
  • Post2Blog
  • BlogDesk (v. 2.6.600 and 2.7)
  • ScribeFire (extension for FireFox)
  • Bleezer (Java-based client)

There were a couple of others, too, but nothing that jumps out at me.  Some of them were a problem to install; some of them didn't work with the very first blog I tried to set up, and I don't have time (or desire) to figure out why.  ScribeFire was a browser extension for FireFox, and I just didn't like that.  It would be nice, probably, if I were blogging about something right from the web, but I never do that.  And even if I do, it's not a problem (and is probably a habit) for me to have the other site open in a tab and just jump back and forth.  Not efficient, I know, but I'm being honest here.  If I want to direct refer the reader to the site, I'll create a link to it and they can check it out for themselves.  I really just never got used to working with a half-browser window for blogging.  It just ... didn't work for me.

Bleezer wouldn't work right no matter how much I tried.  In all honesty, I haven't tried installing it on the computer's local drive; I've only tried putting it on the USB flash drive I carry with me everywhere.  I couldn't get it to run that way, for some reason.

BlogDesk installed easily and ran fine.  It absolutely would not connect to any of my blogs, though.  At least, not after installing on the flash drive.  It gave me several errors while trying to connect to the blog sites, even after I'd gone through their wizard repeatedly and tried to contact my blogs.  None of them -- including the ones they listed as compatible (like WordPress, for example) -- worked.  I couldn't post anything.  In addition, it didn't seem to support any of the other blogs I have, like LiveJournal and the MS Live Space I have (but can't figure out why).  While the MSLS didn't surprise me, the Blogger and WordPress portion did.  Almost all clients support those formats, and without those connections, I wasn't interested in using the tool.  Besides, one requirement was that I be able to use it for ALL of my blogs, so BlogDesk would have been eliminated anyway.  I just like playing with software.

Qumana seemed to work effectively, but I didn't want to insert ads into my blogs.  I like them clean.  So I didn't use that one too much.  I also couldn't get it to run portably, so I figured, eh, why bother?

I was going to give Ecto a try -- I'd heard about it on the web and it was supposed to be cross-platform -- but it's not freeware.  It's a paltry $17.95, but if you've got a bunch of options that are free, why would you pay?  It didn't have any features that I couldn't get somewhere else for free.  So I can't comment on that particular client ... I never used it.

Post2Blog worked.  It worked pretty well, actually.  But for some reason, it screwed up my formatting royally in LiveJournal and in another blog (but I can't remember which one right now to save my soul).  I was having to go in, edit the HTML code (because editing the WYSIWYG didn't do diddly-squat) on those couple of blog sites and re-publish.  Double the effort for half of my blogs didn't sound like the right solution to me, so I dropped and uninstalled it.  It did, however, work portably on the USB drive, and loaded quite well when launched (that is to say, it didn't take forever to launch).

My favorite, and the one I use more than anything else (and I guess I'm stuck with it until I have to bail on Windows), is none other than Windows Live Writer.  That's right, Microsoft's product beat all these other freeware products and beat them soundly.  It has a brilliant design, a very simple and easy to understand setup and configuration routine (all I needed was my blog site's web address), and it even simulates the blog's style sheet in its interface so you can see what your post will look like against the style you've got set up on your blog.  It's amazing.  It sends a temporary post to your site, gets the style information, configures itself and removes the test post as if it weren't ever there.  Nice.

It took a bit of searching around, but I finally found WLW in a portable version, made by a guy on TechLifeBlogged.com.  He's pretty clever, and he solved his own dilemma of love for WLW and not being able to take it with him by creating a portable launcher for it.  Now I have it tucked snugly into my 8GB flash drive with a launcher on my PortableAppsMenu listing; I can use it at any computer, anywhere, and it leaves only the tiniest little footprint behind.  I have a tendency to clean up after myself, but if you don't, it need not be a problem, I don't think.  Just leave it be.  When you're finished using it, the program moves everything back to your flash drive so you don't lose or miss anything, although that process can take upwards of five minutes to complete.

So, it's not a stealthy app, and it's not a fast one either, as far as the copying process goes, but remember that the developers did not intend for this to be a portable app; only the resourcefulness of the one programmer made that possible.  I don't belly-ache about it; I'm just happy to use it.

The interface is top-notch and very intuitive, if repetitive.  Every command on the menu is redundantly on the toolbar, so you really don't need both; I leave them there for aesthetics.  I just like 'em.  The configuration of blogs was really slick and very, very simple, as I've already stated.  And to change from blog to blog, all I have to do is click a selection on a drop-down list.  I even have the option of viewing the blog in a browser window when I've published.

It's totally, completely, and inarguably sweet.  What is isn't, though, is cross-platform.  So, if you're a blogger and you're using a Mac or any Linux distro, this ain't happenin' for you.  You gotta go score somethin' else, dude(tte)s.  But, make sure you know what you want from it and make sure it's going to work for you before you kill drive space and bloat your system (bogging it down) with trial versions and apps that don't perform.  Keep it clean, keep it simple and make sure you're getting what you want out of the deal.

For Windows bloggers -- even if you're very anti-Microsoft, please do yourself a favor and try this client.  It's incredible, it's easy, and unlike most anything else with Microsoft's name associated with it -- it's completely free.  You can download it here.

Happy blogging, y'all.


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Bill vs. the Wetter

When my brother Ryan was 5 or 6, and still relatively normal, he had a friend named Timmy who lived across the street from the cul-de-sac where our house was before we moved to Georgia.  Timmy's family was a nice one; he had a baby sister, his dad drove a big Lincoln Mark IV and his mom was a nice, blond lady named Nancy who stayed home just like our mother did.  Nancy and my mom became fast friends, and that's how Timmy and Ryan got to be best friends too.

So, when my best friend Bill came for his summer visit with us that year, he not only had to put up with Ryan's pestering parasitic presence, but he had to deal with Timmy tagging along from time to time too.

The neighborhood was relatively new and more and more houses were crowding around our pie-piece shaped tract lot.  Saplings were desperately struggling to take root and neighbors desperate to keep up with the Joneses were dropping in sod and sprinkler systems every weekend it seemed.  We lost access to a lot of the places we used to play as those open areas transformed into frames for houses and fences began springing up like ragweed on the sides of the rolling hills surrounding the sun-baked suburb.  We had to go farther away from home to find open areas to play in, and my parents were in an ugly battle with a Frenchman who bought the house behind them over the fence that needed to go up and the property line.

That summer Bill brought his bike with him, so we could take bike rides and get away from Ryan and Timmy from time to time.  Other times my mother left us "in charge" to watch Ryan while she was shopping or getting drunk.  We'd stay in the cool of the central air conditioning and play inside when she was busy, and the most fun game we had was torture Ryan.

We got back from my grandmother's house late the night before, so the next day was the first day that Bill and I were able to start enjoying his stay.  We had long, hot days to enjoy and it was always okay for us to stay up late when Bill was there.  We had to be quiet, of course, but we could stay up late.  So it was going to be fun.

First on the agenda was a trip to a tiny little candy shop positioned behind the Stop-N-Go just a short bike ride from the new development.  It was in one of the older parts of town, but the roads had been extended and wound up the steep hill to where our new houses were, so there was a line on the street where the old pavement stopped and the new pavement had been added just a couple of years before.  The old streets were pock-marked and pot-holed with years of abuse and disrepair, and the tinier houses from the past era were swarmed by large, mature trees that shaded the yards and made the sidewalks buckle from beneath as the roots pushed under them.  The steep hills that led down to Railroad Avenue from the side streets were a fun bike trip and we'd peddle down as fast as we could through the quiet neighborhood, whooping and yelling and being kids.

We'd be given an allowance for Bill's visit.  It was generally five dollars, which in the middle '70s was a lot of money for two kids under 12.  Naturally, we'd blow it all on candy, but it wasn't as easy to do then as it is now.  The miniature grocery store nestled in the bottom of an ancient two-storey stucco building had one of the best candy selections in town.  We bought a lunch-bag full of stuff and had spent less than a dollar.  Bill took those opportunities to tell me about all the new candy brands and types he'd tried since he last came, and pointed and said "Those are great, get some o' those," or "Aw, these are so damned good!"  It was always so cool when Bill swore.  I have no idea why.

So, the next trick was getting ourselves back to the house -- it was uphill all the way -- with our booty in hand.  Boys didn't have baskets on their bikes, of course.  And, to make it worse, the bike my parents had purchased for me had shock absorbers on the front and a dense, heavy metal frame.  It weighed about 10,000 pounds and scrawny, geeky-assed me had to peddle that son of a gun up hill for what felt like 10 miles.

By the time we got back home, I was exhausted, hot and sweaty.  We walked into my room and were greeted by Ryan and Timmy.

I knew by the look on Ryan's face that this was going to be his chance to show off in front of Timmy.  He had that little brother sneer that tells you right away he's going to try and push buttons and say things to tick you off, so that when you retaliate the scream for mom could be sounded.  And my mother, overly protective of Ryan since he'd been run over by a truck at two years old, would rush in and get in the faces of the older kids to leave him and his friend alone.  It never mattered who started it; it only mattered who was loudest.  That was Ryan every time, all the time, bar none.

"Hey, who's this?" Bill said, thrusting his chin at Timmy in greeting.  Timmy shied away, and Bill got a quizzical look on his face, looking to me for cues.

"It's Ryan's friend Timmy," I intoned heavily.  "He lives across the street.  What are you guys doing here, Ryan?"

"I live here too, JD!" Ryan said, his voice dripping with contempt.

"Yeah, not my choice.  Bill, let's get out of here," I said quickly.

"Why?" Bill said casually, dropping onto my bed and bouncing.  Ryan and I shared a room, and always had to my memory.  But when Bill came to stay, he and I would stay out in the living room in sleeping bags.  My mother always left the "spare" room for "guests" that never came.  She never once considered separating Ryan and me, and when Bill came, he didn't want to sleep there by himself.

Ryan was on his bed with Timmy standing next to him.  Timmy was a nerdy little kid at five or so; he had what seemed like a big head, with his platinum blond locks and ice blue eyes peering out of his milky white skin.  He had a mealy-mouse little voice that almost always whined, and a mono-toned laugh that was more squeal than giggle.  He was pretty well-spoken and a hell of a lot quieter than Ryan, but he had a pants-wetting problem that his mother was trying to figure out and solve.

"Because we don't want to be around these turkeys," I said, staring right at Ryan, knowing what he was up to.  "Turkey" was vernacular for jerk at the time, and Ryan was still sneering at me.

"Nah, they're cool," Bill said.  "Want some candy?"  He held out his open bag to Ryan and Timmy, and they hesitated only a second before diving in.

"Hey, just one!" he snapped, trying to close the bag as they tore into his stash like vultures.

"Mom says you have to share," Ryan snapped, getting snippy.  Here it comes, I thought.  Not even 24 hours and it's starting already.  I knew the shout for my mother wasn't far away now.

"I did share, you little prick," Bill snapped back, and I instinctively blushed at his foul language in front of Timmy.  I still thought it was cool, though.  It made Bill seem more "bad" when he swore, and his use of words forbidden from our own vocabulary always attracted me.

"Mom --" Ryan started.

Bill stood up quickly, menacing Ryan with one fist clenched over his candy sack.  "Shut up you little ass!  I did share with you, butterball."

Timmy was cowering between Bill and Ryan, who were squared off  between the beds in the room.  Mine was against one wall, with the foot of the bed pointing toward the door, and Ryan's was against the opposite wall, on the other side of the room with a window between them and the closet at the foot of his.  There were two nightstands between them and the ventilation register set into the floor. Other than that, the only thing separating the two was Timmy.

"I'm gonna tell my mom if you don't get out of here and give me some candy," Ryan threatened, sitting forward on the bed in defiance of Bill.  I don't think Bill was used to being defied by little kids, or even kids his own age.  Bill was used to getting what he wanted when he threatened other kids, and when he didn't, he followed through on his threats.  He'd grown up in a much more urban setting, in a much larger town, full of very different, city-smart and street-toughened kids.  White-bread suburbia was different for him, and Ryan was a spoiled little snot with a mouth like a foghorn who knew that his mother was going to intervene every time he mouthed off and got into trouble.

"I did give you some, you little shit," Bill spat, getting angry now.  "You didn't even say 'thank you' either, butterball."  He always called portly Ryan butterball.  He said he looked like one of those Thanksgiving turkeys you get at the store with his waddling girth and double-chin.

"I don't have to say 'thank you' -- my mom says you have to share, so you have to give it to me."

"Oh, I'll give it to you all right, you fat little punk -- right up your ass I'll give it to you!"

Bill had lost his temper, and he moved forward and gave Ryan a firm stiff-arm shove to the shoulder, sending him backwards onto the bed.

Unfortunately, timid Timmy didn't have the brains to get out of the way, and Bill's body pushed the twiggy little whelp aside and down onto his butt, hard on the floor.

"Oh, sorry, kid," Bill started, but it was too late.  Timmy wailed and tears gushed down his cheeks as he made the loudest sounds I'd ever heard him make.

Bill's face drained of color as he reached for Timmy's hand, but Timmy was sitting square on the floor with his head hung and his eyes closed, with that siren sound vibrating our eardrums and bouncing off the walls, rattling the window in its frame.

"Hey!" Bill yelled, trying to be heard, "Hey, it's okay!  You're okay, it's no big deal!  Calm down!"

"Here, Timmy, have some candy!" I shouted, holding out my open candy bag and trying to see down the hall, looking for that inevitable shadow of my mother rushing to murder us for making a child cry.

"Stop!  Stop crying!  It's okay!" Bill said, then looked at me helplessly.  "Is this guy some kind of sissy or something?" he asked.

"Well ... yeah, but ..." I stammered.

Bill had an idea.  He dropped his bag on my bed and picked Timmy up quickly and put him over his shoulders behind his neck.

Timmy was startled into silence.  "How about a ride in a helicopter, Timmy?" Bill said happily, trying to inject lightness in his tone to brighten Timmy more.

"Hey, put me down!" Timmy laughed, starting to giggle.

I started to warn him, "Bill, you don't want to do that, he has a prob--"

Too late.  Bill started spinning, with Timmy extended and stiff out on either side of his head, spinning like a helicopter's propeller.

"Here we go, getting ready for take off!" Bill said, and he spun a bit faster.  Timmy was laughing uncontrollably, loudly, and Bill started making what he imagined were helicopter sounds.

"Bill, I don't think you should --"

"Okay, let's get up some speed and really move now!" Bill continued, and Ryan was laughing and squealing loudly along with Timmy, who was absolutely shrieking and turning red with mirth.

"Bill, I really think this isn't a good idea, he's --"

"Look out, JD!" Bill said, "here it comes for a landing!"

I closed my eyes and shook my head, brushing my long, unruly hair out of my eyes and sat on the foot of my bed, trying to stay out of the way.  Gradually, slowly, Bill slowed the momentum of the boy and began to wind to a stop.  Then he bent down and flipped Timmy over his shoulders to set the little tow head down on his feet between the beds again.

"There!" he beamed proudly, "wasn't that more fun than ..."

He stopped mid-sentence, looking at me.  I had my hand on my forehead, a pained expression clearly stamped on my face, not looking at Timmy.

Bill's face sank out of his broad smile, and he turned to look at Timmy.

There was a large, dark wet spot between Timmy's legs, spread in almost a perfect circle out from the crotch.  In the exact spot where Bill had him perched on his shoulders.

Bill's eyes widened in horror.  "Oh my God!" he whispered.  "You pissed?? You pissed on me??"  He was completely incredulous.

Timmy looked calmly at Bill.

"Well, you were spinning me and spinning me and ..."  Then he shrugged with his hands outstretched as though there were nothing more to say, no more explanation than that needed.

Silently, jaw slightly agape, Bill strode out of the room and past the linen closet just outside our bedroom door, into the bathroom beyond.  The door closed and the lock clicked.

I looked over at  Ryan and Timmy.  They stood and moved quickly.

"Timmy's gotta go home and change now," Ryan said hurriedly.  "Tell mom I went to his house."

They raced down the hall and I watched behind them as they vanished into the foyer.  Directly down the hall, I could see my mother through the sliding glass door of the dining nook, puttering in the garden.  She'd never heard any of it.

A second later, the front door slammed shut.  An instant after that, I heard the shower running in the bathroom.


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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Movie Weekend

My wife and I have been seriously in movie mode for the last couple of weeks.  We've hit the Pay-Per-View OnDemand thingy two weekends running trying to find something to entertain our over-active, under-slept minds.  With a two- and five-year-old running about bombarding our gray matter with Teletubbies and Dora the Explorer, it's nice to occasionally get a chance to see something addressed to grown-ups.

One of the primary problems with that, however, is me.  My mind doesn't suspend disbelief.  I've come to believe it may actually be some sort of neurological disorder (which explains a lot of other things too), but my wife simply says I'm not able to do it.  Not that I won't do it, because Lord knows I try, but that I am genuinely not able to do it.  So I have a tendency to ruin movies ... for everyone sitting near me.  I've done it to her so many times now she's getting as bad as I am about it.

Last weekend it was a couple of piles of steaming monkey feces called "Children of Men" and an even worse "De Ja Vu."  Neither of them were worth the hours invested in sitting in front of the idiot box to watch them, never mind what it cost me monetarily to pay for them.  Weak plots, overwrought efforts at tension and suspense ... all for some really bad movies.  While I don't want to make an indictment on the actors themselves, I've seen Denzel Washington be better.  And don't even get me started on the time travel thing.

"Children of Men" was just a long series of impossibilities all strewn together for the sake of trying to tell a human interest story without ever bothering to explain why we got to the opening premise of the movie in the first place, which was so pivotal it kept pulling the viewer (me) out of the plot anyway.  If you're going to offer a premise you'd better be able to offer some sort of explanation for it so that the rest of the movie isn't hinged on something that can't be explained.  Duh.

... and, my loving wife has informed/reminded me that we also sat through another, even bigger pile of rubbish called "The Fountain", with what she terms the "nice-to-look-at Hugh Jackman".  (He's not, as she puts it, Johnny Depp nice, but nice just the same.)  I won't even go into that one ... I've never been so unable to follow a movie in my life, and I sat through "2001: A Space Odyssey".  I'll leave it at that.

This weekend we made better choices.  The first of which was "Breach", an adaptation of the Robert Hanssen espionage case that the FBI broke back in 2001 about seven months before the 9/11 attacks.  It's a good movie, but full of what I'm sure represents artistic license in the story.  Don't ask me why; the intriguing tale of a man that sells out his country for ego and what he claims is "patriotism" is surely an interesting story factually recounted.  Especially when he got away with it, duping the entire U.S. intelligence community for 25 years.

Anyway, it was a well-acted (for the most part) and very good story.  It has its weak spots, as do all movies; in particular the ending.  It could've been done more powerfully, but that's just my opinion.  Still, a very good movie.  This was my second viewing.  The first was on a plane trip to or from Puerto Rico for business (I can't remember whether I was coming or going now).  This time I was watching on a screen that was marginally larger than the 9" CRT of the Boeing 757 I was riding at the time.  I also had the benefit of our surround sound system for dialog, too.

But the movie we chose tonight was probably the best movie I've seen in a number of years ... no fewer than three, and maybe more.  It might be the best movie I've seen since "Saving Private Ryan," but then, I don't get to the movies much anymore, and we don't watch them regularly.  That disclaimer is only to shore up the fact that I state that this was the best movie I've seen in a long, long time -- your mileage, of course, may vary.

The movie?  "Good Shepherd", with Matt Damon, Robert De Niro (who also directed), Angelina Jolie and William Hurt.  The plot centers on the birth of the Central Intelligence Agency and its role in the events preceding and immediately following the botched and embarrassing Bay of Pigs escapade of 1961.

Since the movie's an old one by most standards, and most everyone reading this couldn't care less for my plot summary, I'll simply state that the movie is brilliantly written and acted.  Matt Damon was on camera a lot, but spoke very, very little.  He captured and conveyed so much in his silence that it was incredible.  And Angelina Jolie, while not a brilliant actress in my estimation, was very passable as a CIA operative's alcoholic wife.  The other players did their roles well, and it was a great piece of work.  Not an edge-of-your-seat kind of movie, but still thick with plot and story.   The last half hour of the movie is an intense and interesting series of events involving Matt Damon's son, his fiancee ( a Soviet operative who decides to settle down and leave the spy game), and the U.S.S.R. counter-intelligence operative.  A really great twist at the end there, and it makes for a good ending that wraps the movie up well.

Overall, if I were a movie critic (and God knows I critique everything anyway), I'd have scored this one very highly.  Very highly indeed.  If you haven't seen the movie, and are looking for a good way to pass almost three hours, this is a good one.

Matt Damon, as an aside, is fast becoming one of my favorite actors.  I haven't seen him in a lot of stuff, but everything I've seen him do has been great work.  From "Good Will Hunting" to "The Bourne Identity" and "The Bourne Supremacy", he's showing me a lot that I never thought I'd see from him.

Anyway, I recommend "The Good Shepherd" highly.  I actually got into the movie, and like I said, that's a rare, rare thing for me.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Silenced by Response ...

Well ... exactly one day after belly-aching about whether I should bother blogging anymore or not, I get two overwhelmingly supportive responses on a couple of my blogs, and on another I get the highest page hit count I've ever had.

I have no idea what happened, or why, but I suspect that Hello Stranger had something to do with it, and my wife did too, probably.  No matter who did it, or if anyone did it (maybe I just had a lucky day), I want to thank anyone and everyone who stopped by to read my blog(s).  I'm truly grateful, and now that I know there are visitors stopping by and taking a peek (even if it's by accident), then I guess the effort of posting is all worthwhile.

Thank you very much.  I'm really touched.

And now, for the next great internal debate: Do I really need four blogs, 2 wikis and a web site?


More fiction this weekend, I'm sure.  I'm having that "I want to write a story" urge now.  Just don't have time to ponder an idea and work it up.

God bless, everyone, and thanks again.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Same Issues with Blogging

You know, some time back I was complaining on one of my blog sites -- when I only had ONE blog site -- about the fact that I wasn't able to get any feedback to know whether or not anyone even sees the darned thing.  Later, I griped again on my DeviantART page about the same thing.  Today, I guess I've been having second thoughts about some of the things I've done to get my blog seen, because none of them seemed to work.

On the help page of the first blog site I joined there was a neat little article about what to do to get your blog viewed by the general public.  I did those things, to the best of my ability, short of paying for a referral service (I'm not that desperate and have better things to do with my money).  But nothing worked; at least, I don't think it did.  See, on some sites I can't even get a hit counter.  On one site, I get some information about how many people have seen my blog, but if I inadvertently go there without signing in first, it counts me as a visitor.  That's got to be the BULK of my hit counts, frankly.

I think I do get some visitors, though.  And despite the fact that I'm getting them, I'm not sure of who or why they're stopping by (I'm convinced some of them are accidental).  No one seems interested in leaving comments of any kind.

All of this leads me to ponder whether or not to even continue posting stuff to my blog, especially my fiction work.  I think it's a lot to ask of someone to sit and read nearly 3,000 words (in a couple of cases) of text about something they may or may not find amusing.  While it's disappointing, the fact of the matter is that most people, even if they are reading the blog, aren't willing to stop long enough to provide feedback.  they're on to the next blog for more information.

Which leads me to a question: Is informational and fact-based blogging the only type of blog that gets consistent readership?  I don't think I could run a fact-based blog; my spouse is a researcher extraordinaire, but me?  I'd get bored.  I can do it when I have to, but then something will give me an idea and I'll start writing a story about it, and the next thing you know, I've posted more fiction and have the same problem as before.

Now, I have a couple of dedicated readers: my spouse and a friend (who is, even as I write, en route to her new home in the Midwest from the west coast).  I'd like to take a moment to thank them for both wading through all my ramblings and taking the time to give me feedback.  This post does NOT apply to you, I'm sure you know.

But a lot of other blogs I see aren't fact-based, and they still get a lot of referrals and feedback and have very loyal followings.  If one of you has happened upon this lonely branch of the blogosphere tributary, how'd you do it?  Most of them are authored by extraordinary writers, like Hello, Stranger's blog and others, but there seems to be a trick to it that I can't pin down.  (These are, by the way, really enjoyable blogs; I'm not trying to put them down or escalate myself to their level.  It's just an observation.)

However, I've recently come to realize that I really write for myself right now.  I need to work diligently to improve my writing and to get to a point where I'm happy with it (yeah, right), but until it hits bookstores and I'm the new Stephen King or John Grisham or, God willing, J.K. Rowling, it's only for me.  So what do I do?

If I'm writing just for me, I can keep the files on a flash drive and stop taking up server space where someone may put up more useful information, or at the very least, more interesting information.  I don't think I'm a bad writer, I just don't know if I have broad appeal.  I've tried new styles and new genres, and I've experimented with other forms of art (like drawing and sketching and posting those to either my blog or my dA site), but nothing seems to have the appeal that similar works on similar sites do.  I have, apparently, the blog kiss of death.  Or maybe it's the Internet kiss of death.

On the other hand, when I'm surfing blogs and reading things online, I don't stop and comment on every single one either.  I don't know if those folks that published know I was there or not, or if they care or not, but I don't always let them know.  My page views alone are enough to indicate that traffic volume in my neck o' the web is low, but if I can't take that seriously (and sometimes I delude myself into believing I can't), then I have no idea how many visitors have passed my way to have a gander at my spewings and then moved silently on like a virtual ship into the cyber-night.

So ... I will leave my faithful readers with a question: Is it worth it to keep blogging?  Should I only update when I have something interesting and factual to report?  Should I continue to spout my own flights of fancy, or reserve that for the people that give a crud?

Shout back and let me know.

You hold the future of my blog in your hands.  No pressure, though.


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Monday, July 23, 2007

The Cyclone Fence Incident

When you're a kid, and a stranger in a strange land, it is absolutely, vitally important that you be cool.

It wasn't always possible to be "bad." "Bad" was a special kind of cool that carried other sort of things. To be "bad", you had to be really great at something, or a lot of things. But most of all, you had to be tough to be "bad". That was the keystone, the foundation, of all badness -- being tough.

One of my problems was, I was a dork. I had thick glasses and bad teeth, and my thick torso and long limbs made me look funky and weird even though I was more athletic than I knew. That led to the second of my problems: lack of confidence. So, for the most part, I didn't compete with other kids in physical activities, because I was convinced it would lead to embarrassment and not being able to be "cool" any more. Being cool was crucial; it was the difference between being an outcast and being a punching bag.

With all that going for me, my first exposure to physical education in Georgia was horrible. It meant being in shorts -- decidedly uncool -- in front of a lot of kids that were looking for reasons not to like you. It meant being forced to participate in sweaty, stinky games with and against other kids, putting my cool facade at risk repeatedly. In fact, every day. And it meant that I was likely to be the subject of a lot of whispering, laughing and pointing -- all favorite activities of kids with a stranger in their midst.

I didn't have any choice either. This is part of school -- they don't ask you if you want to do it or not. You just do it. I decided then, that hot, first early autumn school year, that I'd try. I'd really try to be less than a dork, and see if I could do it. If I couldn't, well ... I always had the asthma card I could pull out and use.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that, while I wasn't an exceptional athlete, I was able to keep up with other kids my age, and was actually superior to some of them. There was big John Magnussen, an overweight smart kid that did everything he could to avoid PE. He brought in a note every year that pretty much excused him from PE, and sat in the bleachers of the gym or on the grass on the field, watching it all happen. There was Johnny Hunter, too, and while he wasn't overweight or anything, he was a nerdy kid, and didn't do very well. They ended up being friends of mine, as you can imagine, because we were all outcasts. It was band together or be isolated and mistreated. There was at least a little safety in numbers.

Scott Bianca was, I was pretty sure, well on his way to being gay. He and another kid -- whose name I can't remember to save my soul -- hung around together. The term "gay" wasn't popular in that age group at that time, and it certainly wasn't accepted. So there we were, trying to survive the schoolyard and the humiliation of PE, the four of us being scorned, picked last or not at all until the teacher had to assign us a team, or just ignored. We liked that best.

But in the end, I did all right. Not a lot of kids were superior, but there were a few. After a couple of months of getting used to trying and not taking anything too seriously, I didn't dread PE quite so much. I still dreaded it, but not as much.

So, that gray and soggy day in October, in the heart of football season, it was time to play flag football on the practice field where the school team ran their routines.

Flag football was something I'd done in California for PE too. I was at least familiar with the game. So when the sides were divvied up and I was left standing there with my four nerdy friends, I decided I was going to go for broke and really try to play well. Not just keep up -- outshine.

It was a bold move. I had to be great or I'd spend the rest of the school year as the butt of every joke by every kid on the football team. There was no room for error. Any screw-up would be certain kid rep death.

John opted out, and Johnny was gangly and awkward. Scott just did his best to hang out with his other femme friend and stay out of the melee. But I dove in head first.

At first, I was reserved. I was being careful and not making mistakes. After about 10 minutes of that, I was really opening up the floodgates. I made catches -- a new thing for me then -- and made plays, ripping flags free from ball carriers, rushing the quarterback, doing whatever was asked of me and doing it really well. It was all going great.

Then my big moment came. I'd been so cool, I was sent to cover a receiver. That was huge for nerds. You're always asked to stay back, stay out of the way, play deep, make sure you don't get in the way of the "good" players. But I was being asked to be one of the good players.

I was in my glory.

I stood there, watching the kid as he flanked out wide toward the fence. That side of the field was mucky and wet from all the heavy autumn rains. The field, belonging to a Catholic school, wasn't the top priority for school funding, so it was bad. Mud holes, thin grass, and one side lined with viney, climbing plants of some kind that grew up over the cyclone fence separating the school from whatever was beyond it. I never knew, and still don't.

He was nothing special and I figured it wouldn't take much to cover him. He was out there alone -- no one else lined up near him -- so I figured he wouldn't be getting the ball. He was just there, but I had been assigned to him and I wasn't going to let him be open on my watch. When the ball was snapped, I was ready.

He did a little fake that didn't fool me a bit. Then he backed up, shuffling toward the fence. He was really close to the edge of the field, and I thought he might go out of bounds, but I had my "cool" on, and I was covering him anyway.

I laid off a couple of yards, and watched the quarterback's eyes. When they locked on my guy, my heart palpitated audibly. Seriously, I could hear the beating of my heart outside my chest. When the ball came racing in at me, on a line, I freaked.

I stepped up and sort of shut my eyes, putting my hands out in front of me to swat the ball away. I felt the pigskin slap on my palms and suddenly I was holding it.

I'd intercepted the pass.

It took me a second to realize what'd happened. I almost screamed, staring at the ball, but something out of the corner of my eye caught my attention and I looked up, my limelight short-lived.

Everyone and their uncle was running right at me, full-speed.

I almost yelped, but I had to be "cool". I bit my lip and started my gawky, slower-than-molasses-in-January run down the field. I didn't know what happened to the kid behind me, the one I'd been covering. The waves of shouting voices coming from my right drown out any footfalls coming my way and I just ran. I got up to speed like a Peterbilt truck, but I ran as fast as my hormonally-enhanced body would carry me.

I'd gone maybe 10 yards when the tide of kids came in from the right in front of me, cutting me off. I twisted my body, trying to keep my flag out of their reach, and swerved heavily to my left, trying to get around the swell of bodies in front of me. I was caught up in the moment, running like the wind, my long black hair whipping out from my face as I hurtled headlong forward and to the left farther.

That's when I noticed the immovable object coming up on me fast and merciless.

The fence.

I noticed for a moment that it was weird. Most cyclone fences had cylindrical posts, poles that held up the chain link portions. This one had I-beam posts, with the flat sides pointing toward the field -- right at me.

I shut my eyes and held out my free hand, determined not to let go of the ball. A split second later my vision exploded into white and yellow sparks as my forehead careened off something, snapping back my head and causing a deafening ringing in my ears.

My weight shifted from the force of the blow, my head pulling back over the top of my body and sending me onto my back into the sloppy, gooey brown and red mud of the Georgia field. There was a splashy sort of plop! as I landed hard, full onto my back, my hair immediately sopping up water and flotsam from the turf, my clothes soaking through to underwear, jock strap and finally skin.

When I looked up, I was surrounded by kids, all looking somewhat concerned for me. My glasses were crooked on my face and I could only partially see the crowd, all of them murmuring and staring wide-mouthed at me. The PE teacher was bent over me, his hand resting on one knee.

"You okay?" he said, and I knew no matter how I answered, my "cool" was all gone, washed away by that muddy puddle in the middle of the practice field and swept away into the leaden sky.

"Yeah," I lied, "I ... I think so."

"Can you move okay?"

I checked; all my limbs seemed responsive to my mental commands. "I think so."

This brought a relieved bit of quiet laughter from everyone.

"Tell you what -- that was one hell of a hit on the noggin. Why don't you call it a day? Go get showered up."

He lent me a hand and helped pull me out of the quagmire, and quickly whipped his hand down my back and legs to knock as much mud off as possible. I was glad my socks weren't too bad -- just a few spots from the splash. But I'd have to go without underwear the rest of the day.

As I handed him the ball and walked across the field, trying to knock more crap off my head and the backs of my arms, I was about three quarters of the way off the field when the teacher came up behind me, the game having resumed.

"Hey, hold up," he said. "Why don't you go ahead and call your parents when you're done showering. Go on home for the day."

I looked up quizzically. "Really? I mean, I'm okay, I'm pretty sure I'll be fine." Secretly, I wanted to go home. My head was ringing and throbbing and all my cool was long, long gone. I had no idea how I was going to face the rest of the day. And without a hair dryer to control my long locks, I knew I was in for even more uncool.

"You're gonna end up with one hell of a headache, JD," he said gently. "I don't think you've got a concussion, but you should probably just rest for today."

I shrugged. "Okay," I said. I continued on toward the gym.

"Hey JD," he called once again, and I turned around to look at him, still trying to knock the thick, gooey gunk from my skin.

"Great game, man," he said, and smiled broadly. "Why don't you think about playing next year?"

I smiled and went on my way.

I joined the team the next autumn, too.


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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Grizzled Old Warrior

I strutted into the saloon, pushing the creaking ancient wood-slat swinging doors aside as I came in from the brightness of the outside. Every eye in the place fell on me as my own adjusted to the dimness of the interior. The heavy planks on the floor were unfinished and worn over from all the boots dragging over 'em, but the bar was polished and shone like water. The great mirror over the wall behind it reflected my silhouette backlit by the hazy gray light outside.

It was overcast and chilly in the mid-November day. There was a howlin' wind whippin' tumbleweed and rattlin' shutters through the town. It helped shake the dust from my clothes and hair. My dry lips and parched throat wanted whiskey, and plenty of it. My purse told me maybe one or two shots was about it.

It'd taken me a week to get here from my home in Oklahoma, but I heard he was the best there was. Perched himself in Kansas, just south of Witchita. I'd bested every gun I'd come across, and I was ready to prove that I was the finest around. But he stood in my way.

He was known through the west. Steely nerves, steady hand, quick slappin' and lightning aim. Hadn't had to actually pull the trigger in over a decade, they said. He'd just get the drop on ya, no matter how fast you thought you were. He'd have it there ready, just in case you wanted to push the issue, take it all the way. Some said he wasn't human; too fast to be a man, they said. Must be some wraith, or spectre haunting the prairies. All I know is, without gettin' here to try it, my name'd never be higher than second on that list of the best. I wanted to see if he was everything he's supposed to be for myself, and let the chips fall where they may.

Ol' Stan Lichtner, on one o' his trips through town, told a couple of us down at my local waterin' hole that he'd seen 'im in action, in person. Some young gun come into town lookin' to gun 'im down, and wouldn't take no one's word about his speed. So that young boy found him right here, in this very saloon where I was just now steppin' through the door, sittin' on a corner stool and just watchin'. The madam offered the treats of her girls, the bartender offered booze -- nothin' was going to sway the young 'un from his mission. He just kept at the old man, then started threatenin' everyone else. Said he'd shoot someone everytime the old man told him "no," and when everyone in the bar was dead, he'd start goin' through the streets.

Well, I guess that done it for 'im, 'cause Stan said he got up, fixed 'is hat tighter on his head and strode out the doors behind the kid. They faced off in the street, and the kid got all jacked and edgy, ready for the deed. When the madam said "draw" all the kid heard was a whisp of worn leather and the click of the gun metal. He was staring down the barrel of the old man's cannon before he could get his own rig free from the holster. Old man just eyed him, raised his eyebrows to ask the question. You know, making sure the kid had the belly for it an' all. He didn't. He put up 'is hands and left town with 'is tail 'tween 'is legs like a whipped dog.

Everybody knew Stan Lichtner was a lyin' piece o' shit, and nobody believed nothin' he said, but we all hung on every word of that story. Right then, I knew I was comin' to Kansas to find this man an' see for myself.

I eyed the crowd real careful, lookin' over each face. I didn't have a picture of 'im or nothin', but I figured he'd stand out. I held them doors open for a long while when someone patted me on the shoulder. I about jumped outta my skin but didn't yelp. I had to stay cool.

"'Scuse me," a gravely voiced murmured next to my ear, "you're blocking the door, stranger."

I turned around deliberate and slow, and stared into the coldest, blackest eyes I'd ever seen. They were sparkling and lively, but deep as the night sky in the high prairie. The deep lines webbed his eyes, nestling them softly under his bushy white brow and light, wispy hair that rode across his forehead like those frail, thin clouds in an autumn sky. The heavy lines around his mouth showed me he knew how to laugh, and the creases up and down from his lips told me he knew how to smoke. The strong, firm, gnarled hand on my shoulder conveyed both strength and control. His smile told me he didn't worry, and the badge that winked the light spilling from the deepening clouds piling overhead told me he didn't have to.

It was HIM. I didn't need a picture to know him. His every move, every breath, every heartbeat told me this was the man I'd come lookin' for.

He eyed me for a moment, and as I stared back with as little expression on my face as I could manage, the smile slowly faded from under his mustache and beard. He drew a long sigh and stepped back just a hair, settling his weight when he knew he wasn't goin' into that saloon.

"I guess you come lookin' for me?" he said slowly, and his voice was softer than I thought it'd be. It was gentle, and almost kind. I don't know what I was expectin', exactly, but this wasn't it. He seemed like he might actually be ... I dunno. Nice, maybe. I couldn't put my finger on it.

I nodded slowly, never takin' my eyes off him. I half-smiled at him. "You'd guess right about that, then," I said. "I come up from Oklahoma to find you. I heard you're the best."

"Lemme guess," he said, sneering into the distance between us, not really focusing on me, "YOU wanna be the best, right?"

I snorted and shook my head. "No," I said, "I reckon I AM the best, and I'm here to prove that."

He burst out laughing then, and I could hear the shuffle of feet over that dry, dusty wood floor inside the bar as curiousity overcame their distance and distrust. They were startin' to crowd inside so they could see us just on the boardwalk outside under the eaves, the wind just kissing us cold.

"Kid," he said, "I ain't the best. Best at what? What's there to be the best at?" He shook his head again, then leveled his eyes at me. "The best at what YOU want is the Reaper, and none of us get away from him for long. Eventually, he comes for us all. I got mine comin' same as you an' everyone else."

I looked down, adjusting my worn and weathered old hat on my head, keeping my long hair out of my eyes. "Well," I said slow and soft, tryin' to convey calm, "until I beat you, I can't be counted where I wanna be. I figure you and I had a date with destiny from the beginning, and today's that day."

He just shook his head again, slower, and turned his mouth up snidely.

"Well," he said at length, "I guess I can stand here all day and debate this with you, but seems to me your mind is set. Do you want a whiskey first? You look like the road's still on you."

I felt the cracking of my throat when I swallowed. "If it means you ain't gonna try and wiggle outta this thing, then yeah, I'd like a whiskey. Otherwise we can do this right now." I wanted to make sure he knew he wasn't getting away from me.

"All right, then," he said, "let's get a shot first. I ain't run from a man in all my years. I don't reckon I'll run from you either."

I nodded and he gestured like a genteel southern man for me to step inside. I did, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight on end. I was tight and listening for ANY indication that he'd draw on me with my back turned.

He didn't. I figured out later, he wouldn't've. Never.

We stepped up to the bar, and every eye was on us. I was used to it by now. The man behind the bar, with his long waxed mustache and tight vest, thinning hair slicked back against his scalp, came up when we leaned against that polished surface, thumping our soles on the brass foot brace running under the stools.

"Whiskey, Jed," he said smoothly to the barkeep, "for both of us."

"On the tab, Will?" the barkeep said, and he nodded.

I learned two things right then: his name was Will, which didn't seem to sit right on him somehow, and he was confident he was comin' back to pay that tab. I nodded approvingly; the surer he was, the more he'd be surprised.

The barkeep slid two shots at us from down the end of the bar, and I snatched one as it passed and let the second go on. He caught it smooth as silk and never spilled a drop.

I turned to face him when I caught his motion out of the corner of my eye. He raised the tiny glass to me.

"To life," he said. "May it be long and happy."

I dipped my head in acknowledgement of his toast, and we threw back the shots together. It went down slick and warm, and spread through my empty belly and lit the life fire back in me. I'd been on the road lean and hard, and the liquid washed down like I'd swallowed a beam of sunlight. It soothed every nerve in me as it settled into me sound.

He licked his lips politely, tasting the last of the droplets, then stared at the bottom of the glass for a moment.

"Well, then," he said softly again, "I guess you'll be wanting to get this over with."

I didn't reply. He drew a long breath in through his nose and hitched his gunbelt up, pushing his coat tails back at the same time, expanding his chest with air. Then he looked at me dead in the eye, and those laughing, dancing eyes I'd seen before were now as cold as a grave in winter.

"Let's go," he said, his voice emotionless and stony.

I dipped my head again, and he turned and walked without hurrying out those swinging, creaky doors, with me a step behind him. He paced in a practiced, rehearsed stride out from under the common eaves that ran in front of the street front buildings, and into the dusty dirt road that spanned through the town. He continued to walk toward one end of the street, and I instinctively went the other way. Eventually, we stood squared off from each other in the center of that powdery road, tiny dust devils playing up from our heels as we strode, the jangling gear of our gunbelts rattling in time with our steps.

He pushed his coat tail behind the heavy wooden handle that gleamed in what sunlight was left under the dense overcast, and he rested his hand in a habitual way on it.

"You sure you want this, son?" he said, and even though he spoke softly, it was like the wind carried the breath of his words to me. I thought about it, just then -- and only then -- for a second. No more.

"Yeah," I said firmly, and it was only then that I noticed the crowd that had spilled onto the street under the eaves on both sides of the road. They stood safely away and out of the weather, the cool air wet with rain that hadn't fallen but would.

He sighed again, and I heard him as well as if he'd been right next to me. "Maddy," he called, and one of the whores from the bar stepped to the front of the crowd from the saloon. She was short, but her bosoms spilled nearly out of the tight bustier, the big feather on her head whipped in the breeze, and her skirt was cut up the front so that her milky, rich thigh showed.

"Yeah, Will?" she yelled back.

"You start it off, hon," he said quietly, and she nodded.

I spread my legs, pushing my coat back behind my holster and out of the way of my hand, and my fingers instinctively twitched over the familiar cold handle of my piece. I felt my heart racing and willed it to slow down, settle into a rhythm. I felt my breathing get controlled and deliberate. My ears were ringin' with the adrenaline in my veins. I hunched down just a touch, cat-like and ready to spring.

He just stood there calmly, his face completely blank and his hand hovering over the handle of his own shinin' silver unit. He never twitched, and I swore he didn't even BLINK.

"Ready?" Maddy called.

We both dipped our heads slightly to acknowledge her.

"DRAW!!" she screamed.

What I thought I saw was impossible. I was moving FAST -- faster than I'd EVER moved. I pulled the gun free and my arm swung in the same smooth motion as it raised the barrel toward him. Watching in slow motion, like time was standin' still, his hand snatched his piece out of the holster and his arm bent and locked dead on me before I'd finished getting my weapon in position.

But I wasn't going to make the mistake the kid that came to town before me made. I wasn't goin' home with my tail 'tween MY legs.

I squeezed the trigger.

I knew I'd missed the instant I fired. It was too soon, but he was on me already, impossibly, incredibly fast, blindingly fast, like lightning from a summer storm. The bullet whizzed by and tore the fabric of his coat just next to his ribs, but I didn't kill anything but the coat. The INSTANT I fired he squeezed one off too, and he was ON target.

It hit me in the side, barely above my gunbelt, and I felt the hot metal burn through me like fire, the force of the lead spinnin' me on my heel and takin' me down. It didn't hurt as bad as I figured, and I wondered for just a second why he didn't hit the head or the heart -- he could've had his pick of targets.

I felt my mouth filling with dust and realize I'd fallen onto the road. Embarrassed, I struggled to stand, but only realized then that my body wasn't workin' right. I couldn't heft my weight up off the ground. My hands went under my shoulders but I couldn't muster the strength to push myself up. My head was still laying on the dirt, and just then, drops of rain started hittin' around me. There was an odd sound, through the ringin' in my head, and I realized it was the rain beatin' down on my coat back. I couldn't get up.

I heard his footfalls comin', and the crowd goin' back to whatever they were doin' before I got here. I knew then he was goin' to finish the job. I turned my face to one side and with everything I had in me, I rolled over, the fire rippin' through my side again like I'd been shot a second time. I lay there, pantin' like a horse for water, mouth dry and full of dust, and stared at the gray sky and the rain falling right into my face.

Then he stood over me and shielded my waterin' eyes from the light, his outline distinct and his black, shinin' eyes staring at me from under his hat, through that web of wrinkles in his face.

I couldn't speak, and he settled just beside me there, and lowered onto his haunches.

"Nah, I ain't gonna kill ya while you're down, young blood," he said softly. "In fact, I ain't gonna kill ya at all."

I was confused, and tried to form words, but he shushed me quietly. "Don't try to talk, now. I'll get Doc and he'll fix ya up. It ain't bad. I made sure it wouldn't be."

I shook my head, narrowing my eyes at him.

"We're all going to face the Reaper, son," he said. "You're good. You're as fast as I've ever seen, and with just a hair more time, it'd be me down there 'stead of you. You're going to take my place here someday, and you'll have to face the endless line of young bucks that want to make a name for THEMselves comin' after YOU."

I was fading, slipping toward what I thought was death, and he put his hand gently on my shoulder and squeezed.

"You did fine," he said, "and you'll have your day. It will come one day soon, and you'll be sorry you had it. Just like me. There is no joy in sending a young man to see the Reaper before the Reaper comes looking for HIM."

I slipped into sleep then, with his words echoing through my head.


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Friday, July 13, 2007

Dingle Balls and Outhouse Walls

Sometimes revenge is the sweetest dessert.

My parents were always the type of people that never had a good thing to say about their own kids, and didn't mind insulting us in front of our friends. They also liked to embarrass us whenever they could. My dad would say how great this kid was at soccer, or how tough that kid on my 8th grade football team was, or how smart that kid over there seemed. He never had a kind word to say about me that I can recall. My mother, on the other hand, was the one that would take the thing you were most embarrassed about and bring it up in front of your friends. You know, like how much your ears stuck out, how bad your teeth were, your hair was a mess ... stuff like that. Whatever the weak spot happened to be. That was her thing. She would say insulting things about you and if you dared mouth off back, you got slapped -- or punched -- in the mouth.

A long time ago she had some kind of surgery. I don't remember if it was gall bladder surgery or what, but she couldn't hold a bowel movement to save her life. Everything was a diarrhea attack. It meant rushing home at break-neck speeds and having to listen to her inhale sharply in fear and pain as each successive wave of Hershey squirts pressed against her very weak sphincter. She'd sprint into the bathroom and lock the door and be in there for what seemed like forever. It was a regular occurrence in our lives.

When we lived on Bell Avenue in Georgia, things got real interesting, because there was only ONE bathroom. That meant if she tied it up taking a big splasher, we all had to hold it ... whatever "it" might've been. There were times I felt like I was going to wet myself before I got to go in there and whiz, and of course, there was always that charming aroma lingering behind her when she finally did give someone else a chance.

During our time there in Georgia, my parents bought a boat. I have no idea what make of boat it was anymore, but it was a 20 foot inboard ski boat. I think I found out about it one day when they showed up at school with it hitched to the back of the baby blue Oldsmobile Cutlass, pressing that poor old car's rear end toward the street under its enormous weight. It was blue, too -- kind of a sky blue from the bottom of the gunwale down. The top of it was white, like a lot of boats are. It had blue seats and a deep blue carpet inside, and the hold held all of our vests and bumpers for docking. In the deck there was a storage cabin for my mother's water skis and of course all the other boat cubby holes were in place too.

When we lived in California, we lived along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, at the wide, dirty delta where they joined to dump into the San Francisco Bay. In Georgia, though, we were close to Lake Chicamauga. It was a huge lake that runs near Chattanooga, Tennessee, and is chock full of fish, especially large-mouth bass. So it was a boon for both parents; my mother liked to fancy herself a "skier", and my old man liked to fish. After my mother got enough skiing, or got too drunk to safely continue, the old man would fish. We'd spend the days out there and usually end up back home after dark sometime, exhausted and sun-dried.

Out on the water, the smothering wet plastic sheet of the humid southern air wasn't as bad. We had to watch for summer storms, but they were usually pretty evident in a short time. We'd be able to get to a safe pier somewhere along the lake and dock, find a restaurant and eat, and wait it out. You could fold out the seats in the boat and make little beds if you really needed to sleep a night on the water. It was pretty cool, but it didn't have a lot of amenities. It was essentially a ski boat, a boat you'd spend a day in, and then head back for the night.

So anyway, we'd spend a lot of time out on the water during the days when my father didn't have to work. He worked in shifts for the M&M/Mars plant in Cleveland, Tennessee, and every once in a while he'd end up with a string of time off, and we'd go boating. Mom would ski, Dad would fish, and the kids either did their homework or sat there trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. If it got really hot, we'd swim for a while. My mother always wore a light windbreaker jacket and jeans with those ridiculous tennis socks that just barely cover the foot in the shoe and have that stupid fuzzy dingle-ball hanging off the back over the mouth of the white tennis sneakers she had.

We were out once, cruising the lake, just doing the weekender thing. It was summer, so we didn't have homework, and my brother Ryan and I spent our time annoying each other and trying to see if we could reach down into the water from our seats and let the lake drag against our arms. We were out near the middle of the water when suddenly my mother inhaled sharply, making a loud hissing noise, and sat bolt upright in her chair, hands clutched to her chest, face drawn and gaunt.

My father looked over at her. "What?" he said, concerned. I didn't even know why he had to ask after so many years of marriage. She just looked worriedly back at him.

"Oh, diah?" he said, turning back to watch what the hell he was doing.

She looked away, then inhaled hissing again, stiffening her body. "Oh ... please ... " she pleaded with him.

"All right, hold on," he said, and punched the speed control of the boat full-throttle.

The boat's plane rose then flattened out again as it accelerated over the smooth water. My brother and I sighed in the back of the vessel; now it was a race to see if we could find a bathroom or a restaurant.


This drama wasn't unusual, but we took her more seriously when she suddenly stiffened her body rigidly, tightening her ass cheeks to try and help her rectum hold the flood in. My father swung the boat desperately to the port, heading into a cove, and didn't slow as he plowed through the bay toward the far end. It bent around and there was a tiny, naked dock ahead ... and standing a few yards back from the water's edge was a Port-a-Potty. An outhouse.

Any old Port-a-Potty in a storm, though. He cut the engine and let it glide into toward the dock, my mother whimpering and making gasping little desperation noises, squeaking about not being able to stand. My dad stood on the boat's gunwale and grabbed the cleats of the dock as the boat pushed forward, fighting hard not to let the boat slam into the dock. Me and Ryan were ordered to throw the bumpers over the side to cushion the blow, and finally my mother scrabbled over the top of the deck and jumped onto the silver-wood dock.

"Mom, I have to go too!" Ryan whined. "I need to go bad! Can I come with you??" He was whiny like her.

She rushed forward, just waving him on, and he waddled after her, jerking and twisting his life jacket as he ran. My mother pounded into the tiny plastic coffin and slammed the door behind her, leaving Ryan standing outside doing the crotch-pinch potty kid-dance.

My father sighed heavily and slumped down in his seat. It wouldn't behoove him to speak to me, so I stared off into the woods, the water and the sky alternately. Minutes rolled by. My brother began calling to my mother to please hurry, please hurry, he really had to go, please hurry. More minutes went by. Even though we were some distance from them, he could clearly be heard begging her again to hurry up, hurry up, he's gonna pee his pants, hurry. I shook my head, wondering why he didn't just go behind a bush somewhere, but Ryan was too stupid for that.

Finally, the door creaked open, and my mother came out, her face twisted into a grimace of disgust. I figured the outhouse was nasty, full of fecal-urine stink and hotter than an oven out in the naked spot of the lake shore. She walked away from the little latrine, and Ryan smashed in. I heard him yell "OOOOOHHHHHHH ..." in relief right through the building, then my mother's harsh "whisper" to be quiet. In a couple of seconds, he came out and was laughing hysterically.

"Somebody threw their SOCKS in there!" he bellowed, his voice booming and echoing over the surface of the water and being amplified. "It was GROSS, man!! There's poo all over 'em!!"

My mother, her mouth tight and drawn, grabbed his arm viciously and spoke into his ear, dragging him along with her as she headed back to the boat. She pushed him forward angrily and he clambered in, and she stepped up onto the gunwale to climb aboard, my dad reaching for her hand to help her.

And I noticed she wasn't wearing those stupid tennis socks.

"What happened?" my dad said, looking at her face.

"Nothing," she said tersely. "Let's get going, please."

"What is the matter?" he pressed.

"Nothing, I said!"

"What're you so pissed about?"

"There wasn't any toilet paper and it was disgusting, okay? Can we leave please?" she snapped.

I struggled with all of my might not to burst out laughing. Ryan was sitting on the other side of the inboard motor housing from me, staring at his lap. He never said another word, but I knew what'd happened. We all did.

She used her socks to wipe her diarrheic ass in a public outhouse. Ryan saw them in the putrid septic pool when he pissed on them, and bellowed her shame to the entire lake. Of course, no one was around to hear, and I never brought it up.

We motored on as though nothing ever happened, and I'm sure my mother thought that her secret was safe with her and my father. But, like I said, revenge is the sweetest dish sometimes. Now EVERYONE knows.


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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Night Fishing

“Night fishing” is a euphemism from the south.

I don’t know what the heck it means; my father used to laugh about it with his cousin Gerry, who was Chubs’s dad. Gerry’d come over, kind of on a regular basis, and he’d sit out in the yard with my dad and mom and laugh, joke, and drink beer. My mother, of course, wouldn’t be outdone. She’d keep pace beer for beer with ol’ Gerry, and pretty soon she’d be hammered and slurring. Swaying and sloshing her way inside, she’d finally pass out on the bed or something. I don’t remember directly, but I guess this usually took place on weekends, because my father would stay up with Gerry after my mother lost consciousness and they’d laugh some more. Eventually, somehow, Gerry drove home.

Sometimes, Chubs would come with him. He’d hang out with my brother and me, and we’d try to find things to do to keep ourselves occupied. It was harder when it got too dark to stay outside. We had to find something we could do in the dark or in the house, and it was never any fun to be in the house with my slushy drunk of a mother. You never knew what she’d do when a few beers were in her.

One time Chubs and Gerry came early in the afternoon. His nasally little whining sister Missy didn’t come with them, usually. Ryan, Chubs and I spent our day getting around Bell Avenue’s surrounding neighborhood, heading south and across Greene Lake Road, just before it became Oak Avenue, and into an empty lot on the far side.

It was a hot day -- all of them in the south are. The Cicadas buzzing in the thick, lush trees rimming the area only made it feel hotter. My brother Ryan and I, not knowing what they were actually called, just called them “heat bugs.” It seemed like the more they screamed, the hotter it got. The lot bordering Greene Lake Road was overgrown with tall grass, bramble bushes and dense, malicious undergrowth that tore at your pants and feet as you tried to plod through. It left burrs, seeds and insects deposited all over your denim, and I could only feel sorry for anyone dumb enough to wear shorts. They might've been cut to the bone.

Twigs snapped beneath our feet as we pushed through, me leading the way with Chubs close behind and Ryan on his heels. It felt like I was exploring the African savanna, and the thick, wet air, dense with humidity falling from the Cadet-gray sky and dripping over everything like molasses, refused to let the sweat evaporate that pooled out of our skin. The sun, never clearly visible to my eye in the southern sky, hid behind his vaporous veil and taunted us as we tried to reach the point of our journey: a tiny, green pond in the middle of that empty lot.

It was tucked carefully behind brush and scrubby little trees, but I’d spotted it from the car one day on the way home from somewhere. So that day, after Chubs, Ryan and I couldn’t figure out what else to do with our times, we decided to go check out the pond.

At least it was a way for me to get away from home.

As we approached the pond, swatting at buzzing invisible insects and debris from the dusty lot, we heard a distinct sound. It was one that made all of us stop and stare at that murky green water.

A splash.

We watched the ripples roll away from the center of that little body of water where a single white patch of froth was dying, and we knew.

“A fish!” Chubs called out, grinning. “There’s a dad-dang ol’ fish in that pond!”

“Let’s catch it!” Ryan said merrily.

I nodded. “It’s too hot right now though. He’ll stay deep. We have to wait until later.”

“Yeah,” Chubs said, “let’s go night fishin’!” His thick Georgian accent made it sound like “naht fishin’.”

“Yeah!” Ryan bellowed, and just as he did, the water broke again and a new set of ringlets gradually moved apart on the water.

“Okay, let’s get our gear together. We have to wait until the moon’s high,” I said authoritatively.

I have no idea who made me an authority on night fishing. At that point in my life I’d probably caught a grand total of three fish, and none of them had been large enough to keep. And I’d absolutely never been night fishing before.

But, both of the others nodded in firm agreement.

A final pop of the water and a silent ring testified to the idea, and we were bound for home.

Ryan was about seven at that time. Have you ever tried to make a 7-year-old wait for something? It’s a nightmare. He whined, he complained, he made me want to smack him. The sun wouldn’t set fast enough for him. My mom and Chubs’s dad, meanwhile, were getting happily stupid as the hours rolled away. My mother was always easier to be around while drunk if someone else was there; just make sure you stay out of her way so you don’t piss her off. And God only knew what was going to piss her off, because my brother and I sure didn’t. So we stayed as far away from her as we could, but no matter where we went we could hear her cackling, loud-mouth laugh and we watched the sun sink on the horizon.

Eventually, we needed to eat. Still the sun hovered, seeming to grip the sky like a man hanging from a cliff, refusing to fall over the horizon. We played outside some more. We tried to watch TV, but in the days before cable, there wasn’t jack on during the summer and early evening. We tried to read comic books, but I only had a couple, and they were boring to me. I’d read them a thousand times. We played with our dolls -- I mean “action figures”. We drew pictures. Nothing worked, though. The earth had stopped spinning and it felt like the damned sun wouldn’t ever set.

We were chatting in our room about something when Ryan suddenly blurted, “Hey, it’s dark out!!”

We all bolted to Ryan’s bed, positioned just under the window facing north out of our bedroom. There was one facing west, too, but that one was buried beneath the smothering tendrils of a monster bush intent on world conquest.

Outside, the tiny bulb in the lonely streetlight cast a yellowish ring of warmth on the asphalt beneath it a few houses down the road. Houses had glowing amber patches set against the frames of pitch dark to mark their presence along the street, and the Cicadas had given way the to feverish chirping of crickets.

Night had fallen when we weren’t looking, and it was time to go fishing. After hours of tortured agony enduring endless strands of time waiting for this moment, we had enough time to prepare and then make our way through the thicket of the lot to that shiny, stagnant mega-puddle.

We raced out of the room and charged the kitchen. I quickly checked, as cabinet doors and the refrigerator banged open and closed, whether anyone was in the house.

My mother had passed out, nude from the waist up, face-first on her bed. She was loudly and wetly snoring so I opened the bathroom door wide, which meant I was closing the door to her room. Shaking my head, I watched as Chubs and Ryan were slapping bologna sandwiches together at a fever pitch.

“How many you want, JD?” Ryan asked as Chubs passed him another slice of bread. He slathered a load of mayonnaise on it and then set it beside him.

“I guess two,” I said, and joined the assembly line by slapping a slice of bologna on each set of sandwiches. I closed them all one by one as I did, and soon we had food for the three of us to go long into the night.

“Okay, that’s good, get some drinks,” I told Ryan. He was only too happy to obey instructions when it meant something for him, so he hurried back to the fridge and grabbed a few more cans of soda pop, one for each of us.

Chubs was putting everything into a grocery bag, which at that time were all paper. The loud rustling of the heavy brown bag was noisy and I put my finger to my lips to silence him.

“Quiet!” I said softly. “C’mon, let’s get our stuff and get going.”

My brother and I each had a pole, and we found a clunky old spare for Chubs among the others stored in the “spare room,” which was really a storage locker full of boxes and sundries that hadn’t been unpacked, weren’t able to find a place for, or simply weren’t needed in the rest of the tiny green asbestos-armored house. Without really thinking about it, I grabbed the tackle box, too -- a collection of fishing equipment and supplies my father had from when I was a little boy.

With Chubs carrying the bag of food, Ryan carrying the bag of drinks, me carrying the tackle box, and all of us armed with our fishing rods, we set off toward that mysterious pond on the far side of Greene Lake Road. As we crossed the yard, the glow from the fire at the end of the cigarettes our fathers were smoking turned our way.

“Where y’all goin’?” I heard Gerry ask.

“Night fishin’,” Chubs said. “Up the road here a piece.”

That brought a round of wheezing, uproarious laughter from both men. “Oh, night fishin’, huh? Well, good luck then.” I could tell by the way my father spoke he was being facetious and condescending. I decided not to retort.

“We’ll be back before morning,” I called over my shoulder.

“I’m sure you will,” he said, and more laughter chased us up the street as we set off for the pond.

We headed up the hill south and crossed Greene Lake Road for the second time that day, and as we watched the full moon crest over the trees in the distance, we started across that empty lot.

We’d had to work hard for it in the light. At night it was downright hazardous.

Ryan kept shouting “Ah! Ah!” every time his foot fell farther that he expected into holes or divots. Chubs and I kept shushing him, but he’d just whine that he couldn’t help it. Big clods of dirt reached out of the black and tripped us, making us stumble. The tangles of dense, malevolent undergrowth that had slashed at us during the day slithered around our ankles and bound us at night. We fought for every inch, scanning every so many steps for the reflection of the moon in the pond, listening for the splash of the fish in its cooling muck-filled waters.

I saw a clearing ahead, and I whispered that it was probably the pond. The water would be the only place where the thicket would be clear. Chubs craned his neck and Ryan stood on tip-toes, trying to follow my pointing finger into the blackness.

Finally they said they could see it, and they moved off ahead of me toward the clearing.

Distances are deceptive in the dark, though.

Ryan was ahead of Chubs and had taken about 10 steps when he screamed and flailed. I heard a slick, slopping sound and his grunts of disgust before he started screaming for help, he was falling, help, catch him, helphelphelp!

Chubs burst out laughing his hyena’s lilting laugh, but Ryan caught his wrist as he toppled, and the next sound I heard was a series of splashing into ever-deepening water. There was a wailing screech as Ryan sputtered and spat slimy pond water out of his mouth, and a split-second later I heard the water’s surface break again followed by more sloppy, mucking footfalls and rushing water as it pours off a wet body, then the wails of Ryan mixed with Chubs’s laugh.

“What happened?” I said.

“The dad-danged pond’s right here,” Chubs told me, trying to stop laughing. “We were past it before, I reckon, so me ‘n Ryan walked right into it.”

“I need to go home,” Ryan whined, fighting back tears, “I got mud in my socks and I’m all wet. I need to change clothes and get dry underwear.”

Chubs couldn’t stop laughing. “I cain’t change!” he giggled. “This is all I brought with me!”

The slip-slop, slip-slop, slip-slop of their footsteps all the way back home marked our passage back to tiny green house. When we got to the yard, the two men started laughing.

“Hey, you’re back,” Gerry spoke through his wheezing laughter. “An’ jus’ in time; c’mon, Chubs, we got to go.”

“Catch anything?” my father said, wheezing his laugh right along with Gerry. I guess the way you laugh in Georgia is just like Muttley in the cartoons.

I didn’t say anything as I put the tackle box and my rod away. Ryan made a B-line for the bathroom and closed the door behind him to get out of his sopping clothes.

I sat down on my bed and just laughed. I laughed and laughed for hours, until I finally drifted off to sleep.

I’ve never been night fishing again. And I still don’t get the joke.


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