Bob’s 1st Quarter Newsletter
First off, I extend a sincere and heartfelt greeting to all my friends and loyal readers. You haven’t heard from me in a while, and I apologize for that. 2016 was not a good year for me. I’ve been ill.
It started almost a year ago when I began to have problems swallowing. That turned out to be caused by acid reflux, which the doctors finally got under control. However, somewhere along the line, I began to feel weak, with flu-like symptoms. I’d lost a lot of weight, and I figured the acid reflux was to blame. That was probably part of it, but I suspected something else might be going on. I asked the doctor about it several times who kept prescribing different medicines, most of it aimed at treating symptoms related to the acid reflux. Nothing seemed to help. I finally asked the Gastroenterologist about it and he said he hadn’t seen anything during his two endoscope exams that would cause flu-like symptoms. I passed this information on to my general practitioner (regular doctor) and suggested maybe something else was going on. Since then I’ve been through various tests. The only thing the tests have revealed is that I might have mononucleosis. I know that sounds funny and not serious, but I assure you I’ve been quite ill. I’m still not convinced that is the only problem. Another recent test indicated possible thyroid problems.
Anyway, the illness has left me weak and without much drive or ambition. I am trying to overcome that. During all of this many other things have happened. I’m not one to go on about such things so I won’t, except for one: I just learned that my longtime friend and publisher, Dan Case, has decided to close AWOC, his publishing business. So now I’m scrambling, trying to get help with republishing my books to keep them out there and available.
All of this, coupled with my preexisting propensity for procrastination, has rendered my already snail-like writing pace to the realm of exceeding the speed of light, which, theoretically, would cause one to go backward.
Has he gone mad, you might ask?
It’s a debatable question. However, my 4th Elliot novel is caught somewhere in the Space-Time Continuum, and I hope to find the strength and energy to rescue the amalgamation of words, sprinkled with hints of brilliance and hopefully laced with enough cohesiveness to carry a sense of story, from this Twilight Zone that I, and Mr. Elliot, have found ourselves in.
I ask for your prayers and continued support.
Please check out my writing by clicking the link below:
I want to thank everyone who signed up for my Reader List. We’ve already given away a nice prize. I have a lot more good stuff planned. If you haven’t signed up, I’ve placed the link below.
Twisted Perception is now out in audiobook. Please click the link below:
Please follow the link and check it out. Once you’re at the site, there’s a button you can click to hear a free sample. Charles Bice, the reader we chose, did an excellent job of portraying the characters as he tells the story. I believe you can even get the audiobook of Twisted Perception for free, if you join Audible.com. And who wouldn’t want to do that?
I want to thank everyone who has signed up for my newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it. If you know of someone who might enjoy it, too, please email it to them.
I also give programs for writing groups, reading groups, or any group that’s interested. If you belong to a club, which needs program speakers, keep me in mind.
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This article was written by Bob Avey, author of, Twisted Perception, Beneath a Buried House, and Footprints of a Dancer. http://www.bobavey.com.
Bob’s 2nd Quarter Newsletter
First a bit of business: Amazon, doing the promotional magic they’re famous for, has a bit of a deal for my books. With Twisted Perception, if you’ve purchased the e-book, you can also get the Audible version for just a $1.99. With Twisted Perception, Beneath a Buried House, and Footprints of a Dancer, if you’ve purchased the paperback, you can get the e-book for 99 cents.
Reflective moods have come upon me lately, overcoming my thoughts on an increasing basis.
Have you ever considered that we, or at least a majority of us, might be misusing our gifts?
The content of a recent radio program caused me to think about this. The host of the show proposed, and I paraphrase, that the very thing that sets us apart from the crowd, gives us our edge, is also quite often the source of many of our problems.
A few days ago, my wife, Kathi, and I were enjoying lunch in the park as we often do. We’re fortunate enough to work for the same company and the building is close to the park. It should have been a day much like the others, but it was not.
I pulled into a shady spot, shut off the car and rolled down the windows, but instead of fresh air we received a dose of surrealism. The first thing we noticed was the abundance of birds hopping about in the grassy areas, many more than usual, but no other people were around, no other cars took up parking spaces. A cool breeze blew through the park, causing an empty aluminum can to bump and bounce across the asphalt, the action causing the only discernable sound. For a few moments, the scenario reminded me of a Stephen King movie.
Suddenly the silence was blasted away when a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot, its radio playing some type of weird music, a type I’d never heard before.
I glanced at Kathi, communicating without words that perhaps we should go for a walk.
She nodded her approval and we locked up the car then crossed the lot and stepped onto the gravel path, which winds around the park. We followed the path to the large pond that dominates the west end of the park, and once there we slowed our pace to enjoy the scenery.
Canadian geese and a few ducks floated on the water, some of them paddling along, leaving small wakes behind. Turtles sunned themselves on logs that protruded from the pond. Occasionally a fish or two would swim to the surface then again disappear back into the depths. At the edge of the water, a mama and daddy duck swam with babies.
The geese, the ducks, the turtles, and the fish all seemed to be at peace within their environment. I imagined they had no worries, held no grudges, clung to no political affiliations, or harbored any ambitions. They simply went about the business of being what they were.
That evening, while on our way home from work we saw a dogsled, being mushed alongside the road with a team of Huskies. Instead of runners, the sled had wheels. How weird is that?
Not far from the dogsled incident, an elderly lady slowly made her way along the sidewalk with a cane. She carried a sack of groceries.
The oddness of the day reached its apex when I pulled into a convenience store to get some gasoline for the car. At the pump in front of me, putting gas into a black convertible with loud music spewing from the speakers, a man, who looked as if he’d stepped off a movie set, dominated my attention. He wore black slacks and a starched, white shirt with a black tie. Cocked upon his head was a black, Indiana Jones hat, but the crowning touch was a black, leather shoulder holster complete with sidearm. He looked like a mixture of Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers, Stacy Keach in Mike Hammer, and Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black.
I’m continually reminded that this is not the world I grew up in.
God created us in his image and gave us dominion over the earth and the non-human life upon it. I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of managing either the earth or ourselves.
Perhaps we should give more thought to the animals, not so much in taking better care of them – which we should do when necessary – but in living more peaceful lives by striving to be more like them, letting go of the unnecessary, non-productive thoughts we carry around with us.
At this point, you might be wondering: What’s happened to Bob and his whimsical newsletters?
We will both be back.
Two Tickets to Heidelberg
In the last episode (Part IV), I’d suggested we leave the safety of the tent and do a little exploring.
“What could possibly go wrong?” I asked.
“You’re kidding, right?”
I buttoned my field jacket and positioned the matching, army-green, ball cap on my head. “Suit yourself then. Anyway, I’ll be back before you realize I’ve gone.”
I stepped outside, walked around the tent, and began walking in a southerly direction. About five minutes into the hike, I paused at the precipice to the valley, the same one where we’d encountered the boars, but about 500 yards south of that location. The rolling landscape, beautiful even in the winter months, captured my thoughts and I wondered what might be beyond the valley.
I heard footsteps and turned to see Billy approaching. “I thought I’d better come along and keep an eye on you,” he said. “Who knows what you might do without someone to hold you back.”
Billy was joking but he was more right than he knew. My curiosity had gotten me into plenty of trouble through the years, including my current situation of being in the Army, but that same insatiable desire to understand things on a personal level had also enriched my life with luxurious experiences I would have missed out on otherwise.
“It’s beautiful out here,” I said.
“Yeah, I’d think we might be somewhere in the States if I didn’t know better.”
“That’s what makes it interesting,” I said, “something different than what we’re used to, not knowing exactly what to expect.”
“Why am I getting a bad feeling about this?”
“You’re way too nervous, that’s your problem. Come on, let’s walk a little farther.”
“It’s getting dark.”
“I know, but there’s something up the trail that I want to check out. It’s where I was headed when you caught up with me.”
We walked another fifty yards in a southeasterly direction, stopping when we reached a trail, which meandered down the slope, disappearing into the darkness of the valley.
“Yeah,” I said, “this is it.”
I’d just gotten the words out when the form of a person emerged from the depths. Seeing us as well, he waved and came toward us.
“I wonder who that could be?” Billy asked.
Billy’s words indicated he’d found the experience every bit as surrealistic as I did. Who, indeed, would be out here? Guessing that our visitor was most likely a local, I called out, “Guten abend (Good evening).”
The man cheerfully returned my greeting, adding a long discourse, some of which I understood and some of which I did not. During the conversation, I learned the mysterious traveler, a hearty looking forty year old, was from the village at the bottom of the hill. Just a short walk, he’d said.
A few minutes later, my new friend shook my hand then turned away and started back down the hill. It almost seemed as if he’d made the hike for the sole purpose of talking with me. “Frohe Weihnachten (Merry Christmas),” I called out.
“Und einen gutes neue jahr (and a happy New Year),” he replied.
A rustling in the brush drew my attention and when I glanced toward the sound two soldiers came out of hiding. It was Allen G and Charles A.
“Bob Avey,” Charles said.
He made the declaration as if he’d just stumbled upon the answer to an elusive problem.
“What on earth are you doing out here, and who was that guy you were talking to?”
Charles and Allen were a couple of passive rebel rousers – if indeed there can be such a thing – that I’d had no quandaries with but had avoided just the same.
Looking back now, I’m reminded of a scene in The Fellowship of The Ring, where Merry and Pippin come upon Frodo Baggins in the woods outside the Shire.
“Just taking a walk,” I said. “What about you?”
Charles and Allen glanced at each other but said nothing.
I stepped onto the pathway and started down the hill. I didn’t know, but I suspected Charles and Allen had been up to something and were now on their way back to the camp. They stood at the top of the hill, the expressions on their faces seeming to be a complicated mixture of fear and excitement.
“Say,” Charles asked, where you going?”
“Hopefully somewhere away from you guys.”
I heard footsteps and soon discovered that the source was whom I’d expected. Billy had scrambled down the hill. He caught up and stepped in front of me. “Yoncas, what are you doing?”
“I need to see what’s at the bottom of the hill.”
“Are you nuts? By the time you get there, it’ll be too dark to see anything.”
“It’s the twentieth century, Billy. They’ll have lights.”
Billy’s expression said it all.
“Didn’t it occur to you that the stranger I just talked with had to have come from somewhere?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess so.”
“He said he was out for a walk, and that he’d come from the village just down the hill. The guy had looked pretty fresh, hadn’t he? It can’t be that far.”
“Then why can’t we see those lights you were talking about?”
“Hey, wait up, guys. We’re coming with you.”
“I sure wish the Bobbsey Twins hadn’t of showed up.”
“Yeah,” Billy said, “and all the more reason we should call this off. And let’s not forget about the razorbacks. If we run into them again in a place where they can see and we can’t, it’s not going to be pretty.”
“You’re probably right, but how do we shake the Bobbsey Twins? I don’t know about you but I don’t want those two knowing about our tent.”
Billy rolled his eyes. “Okay, good point. Now what’ll we do?”
“Neither of them has ever struck me as having an abundance of courage. My guess is, once they realize how dark it is in the valley, they’ll turn back.”
“That would make them smarter than us. I don’t like the sound of that.”
“You worry too much, Billy. The two of them together couldn’t reason half as good as you.”
“Based on the decisions I’ve made lately, I’m not so sure.”
Then, as feared, Charles and Allen started to follow us.
Billy and I turned to face them.
“We’re coming with you,” Allen said.
“If not,” Charles piped in, “we’ll tell Lieutenant S. about the whole thing, finding you out here and all.”
I had to think fast. Both Charles and Allen reeked of hashish, not uncommon among the soldiers, sadly enough, but it was all I had. “You might want to reconsider that,” I said. “You weren’t hiding in the shrubs earlier, hoping to gain information about my travel plans. If I had to guess, I’d say you just smoked a bowl.”
Smoking a bowl was a slang term used to refer to stuffing a common tobacco pipe with hashish.
Charles and Allen exchanged nervous glances. “Yeah, well everybody does it. And it ain’t like they don’t know.”
The Bobbsey Twins had pointed out another sad truth. There were times, most evenings in fact, when the atmosphere inside the barracks would have given a thick, London fog a run for its money. The use of the drug was so rampant and widespread that there was no way the officers didn’t know about it.
“Not everybody,” I said. “Anyway I’ve talked with Lieutenant S. a few times and I happen to know he’s not happy about the situation. He’s looking for ways to slow it down, namely identifying and stopping the dealers.”
“Hey, don’t jump to conclusions, buddy. We scored a few grams that’s all. We ain’t dealing.”
I turned and started back down the trail. “All I’m saying is that if we decide to trade stories with the lieutenant, you and your buddy, Allen might not fare so well.”
“All right I catch your drift. We won’t say anything if you don’t.”
“Fair enough,” I said. “See you guys later.”
“What do you mean later? I thought you said we could come along.”
I paused and turned back. “That’s not a good idea, guys. I’m trying to be straight with you. We’re not sure of what we’re getting ourselves into. Maybe next time, okay?”
Charles and Allen nodded and they didn’t follow us, but they didn’t leave either.
I turned and resumed my trek down the hill.
“I don’t know about you, Yoncas. I’m starting to think you could talk your way out of anything. What do you think the twins will do?”
“I’m hoping they go back to the camp.”
“That’s precisely what we should do. We could walk a few more yards until we’re out of sight then turn west, follow the valley, and come up near the outhouse. Nobody would see us.”
“That’s an excellent plan,” I said.
A short time later, Billy said, “Don’t you think I know you’re still leading us down the hill? When were you planning on turning back?”
I slowed my pace then stopped. “I thought about it, Billy. But take a look around.
Darkness surrounded us, and on both sides of the trail a thick growth of trees rose from the forest floor.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about the idea of trying to navigate through that mess.”
“Are you telling me we’re lost?”
“Not in the least. All we have to do is follow the trail.”
“I can’t even see my feet, much less the trail.”
“Yeah, I know. The trick is to look up instead of down.”
It was an overcast and moonless night, and yet, since no trees grew on the trail, the sky was visible where the vegetation parted, marking the path.
“You’re right,” Billy said. “And now that we know this, why don’t we go up the hill instead of continuing down it?”
“We should be getting close,” I said.
“Close to what, the Black Forest, Frankenstein’s castle?”
“Perish the thought. Anyway, you saw the guy. He wasn’t tired, not even winded. He couldn’t have walked very far.”
“Yeah, well maybe he’s just an old hermit who lives out here in the woods somewhere.”
“Come to think about it, he did mention something about turning into a werewolf at night.”
“That’s not funny, Yoncas.”
“Just kidding. Come here, I want to show you something. Get your bearings on the trail then look straight down the hill. It’s faint, but it’s there.”
Moments later Billy said, “It’s probably a hallucination. I’ve heard that being immersed in total darkness for an extended period of time can do that to you.”
“That’s not the result of abnormal activity in your brain, Billy. It’s the glow from the lights of the village. Come on, let’s go.”
About an hour later, we emerged from the woods and stood on the outskirts of the traveler’s village, a town about twice the size of Cowtown, which wasn’t saying much. The total distance of the village from the camp turned out to be about five miles, a long way when you’re stumbling around in the darkness.
I motioned toward the town then took a bow. “Your wish is my command.”
“My wish is to be back at the camp, relaxing in the tent.”
At the edge of the forest, a narrow road wound into the village, leading to several shops, one of which was a gasthaus, its sign like a beacon to weary travelers. It seemed the proprietors of the establishment had known visitors would be coming down the hill.
“All in good time my friend. Since we’ve come this far, let’s allow ourselves the small advantage of a good, German brew before embarking on the return journey.”
“I knew you were going to say that. It does sound good, though.”
We walked into town then strolled up to the gasthaus, a popular place from the sound of it. A soft but discernable buzz of voices filtered into the area near the establishment.
All of that stopped when I opened the door, the action initiating the ringing of a bell, the old kind that business owners would install to alert them to the presence of customers, if they happened to be in another part of the shop. The music stopped, the conversation ended, the clinking of dishes ceased, and every head of each customer pivoted around to stare at Billy and me. It was as if a switch had been thrown, the tiny bell being much more than it seemed had stopped everything, even the spinning of the Earth on its axis.
And there we stood in a doorway perhaps created by Doctor Who, weary soldiers from another dimension, dressed in olive drab clothing complete with field jackets and fury parkas.
Billy grabbed my arm and shook his head, but the bizarre invitation was more than I could resist. I stepped inside, walked a few feet then paused and announced, “Guten abend.”
As expected, the mere utterance of the magic phrase brought everything back to where it had been before our arrival: The Earth once again orbited the Sun. I found an empty table and sat down.
Seconds later, Billy found his way through the crowd and pulled out a chair opposite mine. “That was totally weird.”
A waitress appeared and I ordered a bratwurst and a bier. Billy took it a step further and ordered a dinner of jagerschnitzel (a veal cutlet) with mushroom gravy.
“Having to walk twenty miles in total darkness tends to make me hungry,” he said. “But I have to hand it to you, Yoncas. This just might be the best schnitzel I’ve ever had. I’m dreading that hike back up the hill, though.”
“It’s only about five miles,” I said. “It seemed further because of the circumstances.”
“Yeah, but it’ll all be uphill. There’s no getting around that.”
“Never say never, Billy.”
Billy took a moment to consider my words. “Don’t you go getting any crazy ideas. As soon as we finish our dinner, we’re heading back to the camp, on foot the same we got here.”
Once again, the door creaked open, the bell rang, and this time Billy and I became a part of the silent, staring continuum.
“Don’t look now,” Billy said, “but Abbot and Costello just showed up.
It was Charles and Allen. It didn’t take them long to spot us. We were the only ones who looked like Grizzly Adams.
Billy shook his head. “I can’t believe they had the courage much less the brainpower to make it here.”
“You’re giving them too much credit. My guess is they started following us from the start. Once they realized what they’d gotten themselves into, they didn’t know what else to do but try and stick with us.”
The misfits made their way to the table and sat down. “Hey, this is pretty cool.”
“Well, it was until you guys showed up. I thought we had an understanding?”
“Hey we got just as much right to be here as you do.”
As if on cue, Billy and I simultaneously pushed away from the table and stood. The waitress had already left our tickets and we started toward the register to pay.
“Say, where are you guys going now?”
“It’s been a long and interesting journey,” I said, “but alas time has come to set out for the base camp.”
Billy rolled his eyes. “Their behavior doesn’t say much for the Army’s screening process, does it?”
Billy and I paid our bills then left the restaurant, followed the narrow road to the trail, and began our journey back to the camp.
Billy kept glancing over his shoulder. “I hate to admit it but I’m kind of worried about Charles and Allen. Maybe we should go back and get them.”
“I suspect they’ll be coming up behind us any time now,” I said.
“I don’t know how you do it, Yoncas. The twins just stepped onto the trail at the bottom.”
I paused and looked back. The Bobbsey Twins had brought along provisions for the trip. Each of them carried a liter (quart) of wine, and they were already turning the jugs up at intermittent intervals.
“At the rate their going,” I said, “they’ll have those bottles finished off by the time we reach the camp. It should make for an interesting trip.”
“Aw, don’t be too hard on them. We were in the same shape a few days ago.”
“Yeah, you’re right. Some people learn from their mistakes and some don’t. Time will tell, my friend.”
Sure enough, by the time we got back to the camp, Charles and Allen were pretty wasted. It was dark and late. We took them to their sleeping bags then told them to go to bed.
Billy and I would go on to have many more adventures. When our wives arrived, they too became friends.
I got out of the service about a year before Billy and we lost contact.
Here’s to you Billy and Lisa, wherever you are.
The blog entries might be slow to nonexistent for a while. I’m going to concentrate on finishing the fourth novel in the Detective Elliot series.
Please check out my writing at the link below:
The encompassing sleep I’d found in the back of a two and a half ton military vehicle came to an abrupt end.
“Wake up Yoncas.”
I glanced around the cargo area then sat forward.
Near the back of the truck, a soldier studied me, his hands on his hips. “Well what do we have here, a couple of stowaways?”
I’d developed a habit of matching nametags with faces. I ran through the list and pulled one out. “Morning Corporal H.”
Corporal Jim H. had been in the military for a while. He had about ten years on me, and I guessed most of it had been spent doing the same thing, working in mess halls. There were more people like him at the time than you might have thought, quiet, unambitious sorts who’d found, for lack of a better term, a safe-haven in the military. He wasn’t the head cook, but chances were pretty good he’d been put in charge of this detail.
“We missed the convoy,” I said. “Sergeant M. was pretty upset about it. He told us to hitch a ride with you guys. I hope you don’t mind?”
“Better come out with the rest of it,” Billy added.
“Oh, yeah, I guess we’re supposed to help you guys out a little.”
Corporal H. grinned. “Guess you’re sort of at my mercy, huh?”
He moved his hands away from his hips and crossed his arms across his chest. “Say while we’re on the subject, what’s this I hear about you being from Oklahoma?”
I hadn’t realized we had been on that subject and I hoped the Corporal didn’t have it out for Okies. “That’s right. Wish I was there now.”
“What part of Oklahoma?”
“Sand Springs, a small town near Tulsa.”
“Yeah, I know where it is. Grew up in Sapulpa myself.”
I grabbed my duffel bag and climbed out of the truck. “We’re practically neighbors.”
The corporal smiled but his expression overrode the gesture. “I get to thinking about it now and then. I can’t say I miss it for the most part, but there were some times. Life wasn’t all that good for me there, came from a poor family, wasn’t all that popular at school. You know the routine?”
I wasn’t sure why the corporal had chosen that time to open up to me, but I wasn’t surprised that he had. Such occurrences had become common, a trend that would later encourage me to enroll in college classes. I would go on to earn nine hours of psychology credits at the University of Maryland. I had intended to obtain a degree in the subject, once I got out of the military. Yet another one of those things I didn’t follow up on.
Let me get back to the story.
“Anytime you want to talk, about anything,” I said, “let me know. I’m a pretty good listener.”
Billy had gotten out of the truck as well and he was standing next to me. “Where do we put our stuff?” He asked.
The corporal glanced at our deflated duffel bags. “Is that all you got?”
“No sleeping bags?”
“Didn’t have time to grab any.”
“This army is going to hell in a handbasket,” the corporal said. “Help me unload the truck and I’ll show you where to go.”
About an hour later, Corporal H. led Billy and me to a large, military tent that’d been set up approximately fifty yards northwest of the bivouac area.
As I write this it occurs to me that the story gets a little weird at this point, not by intent, but by epiphany as I rediscover the old memories along with you. Except for a kerosene-fed stove and a couple of cots, we found the ten by twenty foot space empty. To this day, I don’t know why that tent was there, or what its real purpose was. Billy and I used it without disturbance the entire time we were there. At the time, I considered our circumstance a bit of luck. However, looking back I experience a tinge of guilt as a trail of deduction leads to no other end than the majority of the other soldiers having shivered on the ground in sleeping bags.
“You can put your stuff here,” the corporal said.
Our trip to Baumholder turned out to be a bit of a vacation in comparison to typical military life. We worked about three hours a day, washing a few metal trays after each meal, and outside of that we were on our own. As quasi chow boys, Billy and I dined separately from the masses, taking our meals in the tent where we spent the bulk of the daylight hours for fear of being discovered and shanghaied into duty of a more strenuous nature. I imagined the veins in Sergeant M’s forehead swelling to capacity, had he known the outcome of our punishment.
Later that day, in the early evening hours, I was stretched out on the cot, fading off to dreamland. Keep in mind this was the same day that Billy and I had walked across half of Germany, looking for Coleman Barracks. Sleep would come easy, but not just yet. One of the few inconveniences of our private tent was the lack of a latrine.
“I’ll be right back,” Billy said.
About thirty yards north of the tent, an outhouse occupied a rather scenic spot overlooking a valley. I figured that was Billy’s destination, though his words had barely registered.
What seemed like seconds later, Billy rushed back into the tent. “You got to see this,” he said.
I sat up and dropped my feet over the side of the cot. “It’d better be good.”
“It is. Come on.”
Once outside, neither of us having a flashlight, we stumbled along in the darkness until we reached the area where the outhouse sat.
“Look,” Billy said. He pointed into the valley. “There they are.”
Struggling to adjust to the available light, I looked down the slope and into the darkness. The valley floor seemed to be moving. As if a large body of water had flooded its boundaries, the area bobbed and weaved with dark, undulating shapes. A mixture of grunts and snorts accompanied the chaos.
“What is that?”
“Razorbacks,” Billy said.
“We’re a long way from Arkansas.”
“Maybe so, but I’d know that sound anywhere.”
“Wild boars,” I said. “Germany is famous for them.”
“I don’t recon there’s much difference.”
“They’re getting louder,” I said.
“They’ve caught our scent.”
I turned away from the approaching snorts and scrambled out of there. Billy had a thirty yard jump on me but I was gaining on him. Propelled by the stench of hot, pig breath, I streaked past the tent and ran for the deuce and a half that had brought us to this demented game reserve. Not knowing the jumping and climbing capabilities of wild boars, I avoided the cargo area and climbed into the passenger side of the cab.
Expecting the angry beasts to body-slam themselves into the truck, pummeling it to the point of metal fatigue, I scrunched down in the seat, hoping to avoid detection.
Moments later, a scream that would melt the peels from onions cut through the night.
I sat forward, chanced a peek through the window.
Nothing. No pigs. No Billy. I was all alone.
I gathered my courage and climbed out of the truck. I couldn’t let my friend get trampled and gored by a bunch of overgrown, German pigs. I retraced my steps until I reached the hill overlooking the valley where the commotion had begun.
This area, too, seemed deserted. Until something or someone that resembled an African chieftain, brandishing a spear, came out of the darkness.
“Silly things cornered me in the crapper.”
“I’m guessing that was you I heard screaming?”
“That was no scream. It was a war cry. I found this old mop handle in the outhouse and chased the crazed razorbacks away with it.”
“It must have worked,” I said. “I don’t see any more boars around. I guess that makes you a hero of sorts.”
“Why do you say that?”
“If you hadn’t turned them away, the boars probably would have run through the camp. There would have been a lot of surprised soldiers, jumping from their sleeping bags.”
A couple days later, having finished the evening dishes, Billy and I were kicked back in the tent.
Even as one who lived this era, it’s been difficult for me to conceive of having no personal computer, no smart phone, no cell phone, or any type of device that would connect to the internet. And even if by some strange circumstance I would have had any of those things, there was no internet to connect to. Television and radio broadcasts were available, but neither Billy nor I had a radio or a television with us. All we had was conversation. I truly miss those times.
Anyway, by this time I had begun to experience cabin, or tent fever.
“We have close to an hour of daylight,” I said. “What do you say we go on a little exploratory mission?”
Billy looked comfortable and content in his cot. “Why would we want to do that?”
“So far all we’ve seen is the mess tent, this tent, and the outhouse.”
“This is the best duty I’ve ever had. Let’s not push our luck.”
“We could skirt around behind the tent and check out the area outside the camp. No one will notice.”
“What little sense of judgement I have left is telling me to stay here and enjoy my freedom.”
“We’ll be back to the tent within thirty minutes. What could possibly go wrong?”
I truly promise to wrap it up next post.
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At the end of part II, Billy and I had gotten ourselves into a bit of a predicament, and we’d narrowed down our options on making the best of it to either waiting on the train or walking from Heidelberg to Coleman Barracks.
Under ordinary circumstances, we should have been able to get back to the base and grab a couple hours sleep before roll call at 6:00 AM.
These were not ordinary circumstances. We’d only been in Germany for a few weeks, neither of us had been past Mannheim, and a commuter train had brought us to our current outpost. We knew where we were, but not exactly how to get back to where we’d been.
Did I mention that German bier is typically stronger than its American counterpart?
Our infamous trek encompassed a deserted menagerie of highways and byways where no cars or vehicles of any kind traveled, and we were certainly the only pedestrians. It was dark, quiet, and precisely eerie. Like a couple of POW's, scrambling behind enemy lines, we stumbled along the countryside in the general direction of the base.
The exact details of the marathon hike are a bit fuzzy, perhaps mentally blocked might be closer to the truth, but somehow, only by the grace of our Lord and Savior I surmise, we found the gate to Coleman Barracks. It was now somewhere around 5:00 AM, Monday morning. Like a long-distance runner, who’d come within inches of the finish line, I stood outside the gate, the frigid December air of the early hours doing little to inhibit the sweat that oozed from every pore in my body.
I couldn’t determine whether anger or surprise dominated the emotions of the guard who came out of the shack to confront us.
“Avey, I might have known it’d be somebody like you.”
I couldn’t say we were friends or even casual acquaintances, but it might be suggested that somewhere between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico we’d crossed paths. “Hey Sanchez. Fancy meeting you here.”
Sanchez glanced at his watch, over to the guard shack, and then back to us. “Does anybody but me know you’re out here?”
“That would be seriously doubtful.”
“Are you drunk?”
“I don’t believe this. I’m going to the guard shack. When I turn back around, I best not see anybody standing here.”
“You can count on that. You’re all right, Sanchez. I owe you one.”
“No you don’t.”
Billy and I gathered what little strength we had left and scurried through the gate. All we had to do was go about a half mile, enter the barracks, change clothes, and fall into formation with everyone else. After what we’d been through, this should be, to indulge a cliché, a piece of cake.
We arrived at our location with a few minutes to spare, though it soon became obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was no formation, not even the beginnings of one. We were the only soldiers in the area. Even if we’d been a few minutes late, somebody should have been hanging around.
Billy and I exchanged glances then ducked into the particular barracks where we were temporarily being housed with hopes of finding everyone still in their bunks. We’d just cleared the stairs to the second floor and turned the corner, when we were met my Sergeant M. He was one of those soldiers who wore starched fatigues, shiny boots, and a smoky-bear hat. He was a drill sergeant. More than that, he was our drill sergeant, and, as everyone who’s been in the service knows, the goal is to remain anonymous to drill sergeants, not to draw their attention.
“Where the hell have you two been?”
Fearing we’d been busted, though never giving up hope, I found a response. “We had a late night and fell asleep in our civvies (civilian clothes). When we heard the commotion, we ran outside to join the others. We realized we were out of uniform so we came back in to get dressed.”
Sergeant M. was a tall, lanky guy, with a powerful, but high-toned voice. He’d always reminded me of a blue heron. He stalked over to a row of windows that looked out over the base then motioned for us to follow. “You’re supposed to be on the convoy to Baumholder.”
We watched through the windows as the last of the small, armored, personnel carriers clanked out of the area.
Sergeant M’s eyes widened as he leaned forward. “And there they go.”
I tried to hold it together but the image of the giant, squawking blue heron was just too much. I began to laugh.
Billy threw an elbow into my side then shot me a what-the-hell-are-you-doing glance.
Had I kept quiet, we might have gotten by with taking a jeep to catch up with the convoy. As it turned out, the sergeant bellowed for us to grab a duffel bag and cram some clothes and whatever else we could muster in about three seconds into it. After that, he marched us outside and over to the mess hall where a couple of deuce and a half trucks were being loaded.
“You’ll ride with the cooks,” the sergeant said, “and since you’re already with the chow boys, you’re on KP duty.”
The dreaded words no soldier wants to hear. KP duty or kitchen patrol equated to long hours of pure hell, a nightmarish combination of dish washing, food preparation, and floor mopping.
Billy and I tossed our duffel bags into the closest truck and climbed in. The ride to Baumholder was probably long and bumpy. I slept most of the way. I seem to remember Billy saying that it could have been worse, and that at least no one had noticed we’d been temporarily AWOL.
And then, “Wake up, Yoncas.”
I’m sorry I’ve dragged this story out, but it’s turned out to be much longer than I’d thought. Stay tuned for part IV, where I promise to wrap it up.
Thanks for reading.
Two Tickets to Heidelberg Part II
In the last episode, Billy had reluctantly decided to go to Heidelberg with me:
Billy glanced at his watch. “The more I think about it, I would like to see the castle. Do you think we have time, though?”
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t. It’s only about 15 miles from here.”
Minutes later, I strolled up to the ticket counter and said, “Ich mochte zwei fahrkarte nach Heidelberg, bitte.”
The guy behind the counter didn’t laugh, grin, or even flinch. He pushed a button and two tickets came out.
“Wie viel kostet das?” I asked.
That equated to 40 mark, about 10 dollars. I pushed a 50 mark bill under the glass and got change.
As we neared the train, a fast commuter that ran on electricity, Billy’s face lost a little more color. “What exactly did you say to that man?”
“I just asked for the tickets.”
“Sounded like more than that to me.”
“Well I had to know how much they cost.”
We boarded the train and found a seat, Billy next to the window and me the aisle seat.
“You rattled that stuff off like you knew what you were talking about. How did you do that?”
“I paid attention in class.”
“Yeah, well I was there too, and what we got was a German version of Dick and Jane, real simple, nothing like what you just did.”
I looked past Billy and observed the scenery through the window. “You’re making too much out of this. I simply studied the short phrases until I understood not only the meaning but the construction of the sentences then expanded on them.”
A short time later -- a few years have passed since then and the details are a little fuzzy, but I believe it was around 3:00 PM – the beautiful scenery and friendly conversation having eased Billy’s apprehension, we disembarked at the train station in Heidelberg where we eased into the second leg of our shoestring-budget tour.
The schloss, or castle sits on a hill 300 feet above the city and walking the steep, winding road proved challenging even for a couple of young soldiers. It was well worth the effort. The castle on the hill above Heidelberg was mentioned as early as the 13th Century, though it wasn’t until 1400 AD that the building activities were documented.
In my youthful years, breaking through my constantly moving, perhaps even chaotic mind was no easy task – my wife, Kathi might tell you that I haven’t changed – but I slowed down to a near trance-like state as I walked along the halls and rooms of the castle, experiencing the statues, decorations, and architectural details. Seeing, touching, and feeling a man-made structure that was 800 years old, if not older fascinated me beyond description. No need for drugs to treat attention deficit disorder, just a castle.
The depths of the schloss host what’s claimed to be the world’s largest wine barrel: Holding 58,000 gallons of the fruit’s nectar and sporting a dance floor atop, the old wooden cask just might be. I guess one never knows when they might get thirsty during a siege.
And, speaking of drugs, if your attention still waivers the lower floor hides an apothecary museum where you’ll find pharmacopoeias, manuscripts, an array of glass vessels, mortars, and flasks, all encompassed in a laboratory where good old Merlin would have felt right at home.
Along one of the walls, a rope and a sign blocked a doorway, which led to the castle dungeon, and beyond that a set of stairs disappeared into a black hole. The vision I conjured of what might be at the bottom of those steps resembled something dredged from the nightmares of Edgar Allen Poe.
Billy and I roamed around the castle and the adjoining grounds until 6:00 PM when the proprietors closed the attraction. After that we carefully descended the steep, cobblestone path and entered the city of Heidelberg. Billy mentioned he was hungry so we walked the streets until we found a gasthaus (guest house), a German-styled, family owned tavern with a bar and a restaurant.
Once we were inside the establishment, something interesting began to happen. The gasthaus turned out to be popular with the locals, and my using their language attracted their attention. Many of them, especially the younger ones, knew English well enough. However, an American soldier that tried to reciprocate was a bit of a rarity. My efforts intrigued and delighted them.
A good meal and several free rounds of bier (beer) later, Billy tugged at my shirt sleeve and tapped his wrist. His watch showed that it was around midnight.
“Hey,” he said, “we need to get going.”
The trip back to the base wouldn’t prove to be so easy.
We said goodbye to our new-found friends, left the gasthaus, and headed for the train station. It had not occurred to us that certain trains wouldn’t run all night. The last train to Mannheim had left thirty minutes ago and there wouldn’t be another one until 5:30 AM.
Even in his slightly inebriated state, Billy’s face grew serious. “What’ll we do now, Yoncas?”
“Well we could wait the five hours, but with a twenty minute ride and still having to get from Mannheim to the barracks, we’d be cutting it pretty close to make the 6:00 AM roll call.”
“You haven’t let me down yet. Don’t start now.”
Billy was right. Missing roll call could result in anything from a severe tongue lashing to a full-blown court martial. We couldn’t risk it. “I’d say it’s a good night for a walk. We should be able to make it in about three hours.”
Stay tuned for Part III.
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It’s a cold, Monday afternoon and I sit in the breakroom at work, staring through the window, admiring the blue sky. Hey, I’m allowed a 15 minute break. Blocking a portion of the horizon, an old-styled, brick building, which rises from the floor of the valley below my position, reminds me of something from the past and I’m transported back to Germany in the winter of 1971.
During my tour, I’d met many people in the states and made some acquaintances overseas within the processing phase, but when I stepped off the bus at Coleman Barracks in Mannheim Germany it was into a world of strangers. I know it’s a cliché, but it was true that I’d never felt so alone.
I buttoned my field jacket and fell in with the other soldiers, who’d been ordered to start a formation in front of the barracks.
The First Sergeant barked out an order and we all came to attention.
However, it didn’t take long for my mind to drift past the sergeant’s vengeful words of orientation and into my new surroundings. A ten foot, barbed-wire capped, chain-link fence encompassed the base where everything – the streets, the barracks, and the overcast sky – incorporated the same, monotone shade of grey: A prison-like quality for a prison-like place.
It sent a chill through my 21 year old heart that I’ve yet to forget. Not that the place was actually that bad. Life outside the base would prove quite interesting. At the time, Germany was a clean, beautiful country, and while the people weren’t exactly friendly, they weren’t exactly non-friendly either. It was just the times.
A few weeks later, with the pangs of curiosity having overcome my reluctance, I rolled out of bed on a Sunday morning with the intention of taking a site-seeing excursion. I’d made a few friends by then and I’d asked one of them, an Arkansas native named Billy, if he’d like to tag along. He and I had recently participated in a two-day, crash course in the German language, and I guess I’d thought he would be as eager as I was to try it out.
“So, you’re talking about leaving the base?” He asked.
“We pretty much have to, to get where we’re going.”
Billy took a moment to consider the offer. “And where exactly are we going?”
It appeared Billy’s heart wasn’t completely in with the idea.
“I don’t know. Mannheim I guess. We’ve seen all there is in Cowtown.”
The small village of Sandhofen, which, at the time, consisted of about ten buildings, occupied a space near the base. Everyone called it Cowtown.
Billy shrugged. “Whatever you think, Yoncas.”
That’s what he always called me. I never asked why.
I’d learned that some of the soldiers at the base had cars, so I asked around until I found someone, who was going into Mannheim that day and bummed a ride.
The trip proved interesting. We visited der Wasserturm, a Romanesque water tower completed in 1886, went to der Post (the post office) and mailed postcards to our wives back in the states, and later dined on sandwich mit schinken (ham sandwiches).
As luck, or fate would have it, a fellow American, a soldier who’d been in country for a while, stopped by our table for a short chat. He suggested we might further enhance our site-seeing adventure by visiting the Schloss (castle) in nearby Heidelberg.
Outside the restaurant, the expression on Billy’s face grew serious. “Are we sure we want to do this?”
After finishing our lunch, I’d asked the friendly American how we might go about getting to Heidelberg. He’d suggested the train. “I can’t pass this up,” I said, “so I’m going, but if you don’t want to, I’ll understand.”
“Okay, but how do I get back to the barracks?”
“Whenever you see an American, ask them if they’ll be going to Coleman. Most of them are from there anyway. They won’t mind giving you a ride.”
“What if that doesn’t work?”
“It’ll work. Anyway, even if you strike out you could always walk along the roadway with your thumb out. They say the locals are pretty good about that. I don’t know why they would be, but that’s what I’ve heard.”
Tune in next week to see what happened to Billy and me in Heidelberg.
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Memories in the Making
The concept of children being self-centered has become generally accepted knowledge. Have you ever considered the possibility of our trust in that idea being misplaced?
Don’t let the lead-in mislead you. This isn’t an article about children. Or is it? I’m not really sure myself. As children, we soak in all the love we can get and we happily and readily depend upon our families for our every need. It’s when we mature into adults and leave the comfort of our childhood to become dependent upon ourselves that the real “me” culture begins. Think about it. Who is more selfish? The child who somewhat begrudgingly shares her toys or the adult who does whatever it takes to get ahead, gain a foothold over his coworkers and seize that promotion?
All right, I’ll now climb down from the soapbox.
My mom wanted to visit, so I drove to Kansas over the weekend and brought her to our home in Oklahoma for a week or so. Okay you guessed it. The older I get the more nostalgic and child-like I become.
Mom’s antics, annoying at first, have become quite entertaining. She’s always losing things. Usually it’s her cellphone or her garage door opener. Even though she no longer drives an automobile, the assisted-living duplex where she lives has a small garage. She has taken to leaving the front door to the apartment locked and using the garage to enter and exit the dwelling. I know. Anyway, during her last visit, she had lost her cell phone. She had looked everywhere. I offered to help, but she was ready to go, so I promised we would search for it upon our return and we headed for Oklahoma.
On Monday, after the weekend, my wife, Kathi, and I left mom and our son, David, at home and went off to work. Around 10:00 AM, I heard a mild commotion and glanced outside my cubicle to see that several of my coworkers had gathered and they were pointing and looking out the window. I joined the group and saw what had drawn their attention. People were streaming from the building and gathering in the parking lot. We all exchanged curious glances and wondered what in the world was going on. When a firetruck, with sirens blaring, squealed to a stop near the building, it unanimously dawned on us that perhaps we should exit the building as well.
It turned out there had indeed been a fire in the building. An electrical malfunction had occurred in one of the outdated, ancient elevators – we only have two and neither of them is dependable. To complicate matters, the fire alarms had gone off on the 5th floor, which accounted for the people we had seen running for safety, but had failed to work on the remaining floors.
Later in the evening when we returned home, mom informed us that she’d been hearing a strange, beeping sound. It had been bothering her all day. Sure enough, when we remained silent and listened, we, too, heard the sound. However, like the chirping of a cricket, it was difficult to determine exactly where it was coming from. With the scare from work still fresh in my mind, I immediately thought of the smoke detectors. We have two downstairs and one upstairs. I recruited the help of our son, David, who I sent upstairs, while Kathi and I positioned ourselves directly beneath the bottom two. When the beeping sounded again, we all called out, “It’s not this one.”
With the detectors eliminated as the source of the pesky tone, we turned our attention to the two thermostats, one upstairs and one down. They, too, emit a sort of chirp when the batteries become weak. No, it wasn’t the thermostats either.
“It seems to be coming from the kitchen,” mom insisted.
Kathi, David, and I all descend on the kitchen, where mom is standing, and while we have her surrounded, we once again hear, “beep.”
“Have you checked your pockets?” I ask.
“There’s nothing in my pockets,” she insisted. “I pulled these sweatpants from my suitcase this morning, and I haven’t put anything in the pockets.”
“Well, just to be safe,” I said, “please check your pockets.”
Mom rolls her eyes then shoves her hands into the pockets of her sweatpants. Her expression softens as she pulls out her lost cellphone, which had been beeping because it needed a charge.
September 29, 2015 – Blog Post
The Joker – Part III
Picking up where we left off with the last post:
Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the bruised feelings I’d erroneously nurtured due to my misunderstanding of constructive criticism resurfaced and planted the seeds of mild revenge. Riding the rebellious wave, I conceived a plan, which I thought might gain the attention of my fellow critique partners while simultaneously allowing me to poke a little fun at them.
Eager to crawl forward with the dastardly deed, I began to put together a story. However, as the characters and plot unfolded, whenever I perceived an opportunity I began to exaggerate, writing in a style I considered over-the-top with the characters behaving in a manner I thought almost comical.
The plan was to demonstrate to the group that I had understood what they’d been saying, and to show them that, yes, I could write that way, while at the same time throwing a redeeming comical light on the whole matter.
A few days later at the meeting, I almost lost my nerve, and entertained thoughts of telling the members that I hadn’t written anything, but had come only to listen and learn. Instead, when it came my turn to read, I went through with it.
Upon completion of my reading, the room hung suspended in silence. A sick feeling began to form in my stomach. I fully expected to be excoriated for my insolence, but that didn’t happen. To my surprise, each member orderly took their turn and showered me with praise and compliments.
As shame and guilt crept over me, I felt so low that I almost wished that they had assaulted me with insults. At that point, I could not bring myself to tell them the truth, so I went with it, each week bringing a new installment. About a year later, I had a rough draft of a novel, which would eventually become my first book, Twisted Perception.
To be continued.
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September 10, 2015 – Blog Post
The Joker – Part II
I left you hanging last time in the midst of my ramblings about criticism. Let me pick up where we left off.
A few days after having perceived my writing as being trashed – actually, while containing hints of inspiration, those early short stories were pretty bad – I was sitting home one night, watching television and feeling sorry for myself when something rather strange happened. An internal voice, which I realized as being a fictional character, actually told me how to pick up the pieces and proceed with my writing. You probably paused after reading that, and perhaps entertained certain doubts. I won’t go so far as to say there’s nothing to worry about, but having characters, which are actually part of the subconscious, pop into my thoughts with tidbits of story is now a common occurrence. However, with this being the first time I’d become aware of it, it was mildly unnerving.
This is how it happened: Halfway through some now forgotten television program, the internal voice, a character, said: You can’t fill out a homicide report, indicating the suspect to be a ghost.
The enigmatic phrase might seem like gibberish, but I immediately recognized it as a possible answer to my current dilemma. The character’s reference to a homicide report indicated he was involved with law enforcement, which meant, if he hung around, he would lead me toward some type of crime story that would be conservative enough to satisfy the critique group. At the same time, there was this ghost thing thrown in, which could offer substance, if you will, to satisfy my leanings toward the not-so-conventional. In short, it was perfect.
I immediately went to my office, which consisted of a cheap desk crowed into a corner of the master bedroom of our rented house, and began banging out what would eventually become a mystery novel. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the bruised feelings I’d erroneously nurtured due to my misunderstanding of constructive criticism resurfaced and planted the seeds of mild revenge.
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In the last blog post, I raised the question as to why my first novel was written for the Mystery genre, when my love of reading – which ideally, for the writer, should be the same – leaned toward fantasy.
In the midst of confusion, while caught up in a burning cauldron – I’m feeling quite dramatic today – of internal and external turmoil, I had the wherewithal to seek out, find, and join a local writers group. The complicated process was simple, really. I called the Tulsa Library, and the nice lady I spoke to, gave me the contact information for the Tulsa NightWriters, a group I still belong to.
As fate would have it, – I’m experiencing an epidemic of clichés too – after attending a few monthly meetings, I discovered that a select cadre of fiction lovers within the club were in the habit of gathering once a week, to read and critique each other’s work. I inquired about the nature of this group within a group and before long I, too, became a member of the quasi secret society of writers.
As it turned out, the secret society leaned toward the conservative side of writing and, therefore, did not readily take to my fantastical ramblings. They told me I should abandon the short-story, for there was no money to be made there, and embrace the long form of a novel. They also suggested, perhaps a bit more subtly, that I consider a style of a more salable nature.
Needless to say, I was crushed. Writers, especially those new to the occupation, or should I say obsession, do not take kindly to criticism. Some of them might not show it, choosing to take it quietly, but trust me, they take it personally. When someone expresses a negative opinion of something you’ve worked so hard to create – whether it’s warranted or not – it’s akin to them walking up to you on the street and telling you that your children are ugly.
Don’t let me put too sharp a point on this. Learning to take constructive criticism is a necessary and essential part of the writing process. And like I said, I’m feeling dramatic today. The help and criticism I’ve received from editors, publishers, and fellow-writers have been both appreciated and invaluable.
And now: actually with the next post; for the rest of the story.
July 30, 2015 – Blog post
In the last post, Kathi and I had moved to Tulsa to either etch out a new life, or salvage the old one. I’m still not sure which on prevailed, but when the idea for this blog series came to me, I resolved to keep it upbeat. I’m finding it difficult to adhere to that promise. However, in concentrating on the writing instead of the life behind it, I would find it easier. But how boring is that?
In the spirit of Family Vacation, the movie, we rolled into Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in a mini caravan, which consisted of a rental truck and the family car. We rented a small, but clean little house, and there began the journey.
Kathi, as she’s mysteriously prone to do, immediately snagged a new job as an accounts payable clerk. Her ability to land on her feet and hit the ground running is nothing short of amazing. The love, inspiration, and help she’s given me through the years is unfathomable. She is a Godsend.
For me, it didn’t go so smoothly. Preparing a professional-looking resume, I sent them out in droves, only to be replied to, for the most part, that I was overqualified. How can one over qualify themselves into perpetual unemployment?
Looking back, the opportunity I’d always dreamed of, that of being a fulltime writer, was staring me in the face. At the time, though, an innate fear of ending up homeless and eating from dumpsters blinded me to the potential bliss. I didn’t give up on writing. The process of immersing myself in characters and situations, helped pull me through. However, as one might imagine, the writing I produced during that period had a rather dark slant to it, resembling, I suspect, the stuff possibly found in Rod Serling’s secret closet, where he kept that which was too intense for television.
The stories were pretty bad, technically, but they served their purpose in allowing me to stretch my imagination and explore where my writing might lead. And it isn’t surprising that I would choose dark fantasy as an outlet. My love for reading began with fantasy, and my desire to write was born from reading books like, A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine Le Engle. There are times when I wish I’d stuck with the genre. In fact, the discerning reader might pick up on slight influences infused within my first two novels; Twisted Perception, and Beneath a Buried House. With Footprints of a Dancer, I attempted to open the gates a bit too much. With the fourth novel in the series, which I hope to have out within the year, I believe I’ve struck a proper balance between the worlds of mystery and fantasy. It’s my best work yet. I know we writers always think that of our work in progress, but it goes beyond that. I feel it with each chapter: This is the one.
Why did I backpedal into straight mystery?
More to come…
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There’s something to be said for organization. Whatever it is escapes me at the moment.
People often comment on my haphazard way of publishing the newsletter, releasing an issue whenever the mood strikes. Contrary to how it might seem, the publication is set up on a quarterly basis, and I try to adhere to that; sort of.
So, you might ask, what’s happened since the last breathtaking issue?
We – Kathi, David, and I – had a garage sale. This was no ordinary shindig. According to our neighborhood covenants, we’re only allowed to hold such an event once a year, and even then it’s to be scheduled on a date predetermined by the neighborhood association garage-sale wizards. The sale is a highly anticipated happening. We’ve been in the neighborhood going on four years now, and it was the first time we finally got around to participating, if you want to call it that. We’d had at least four weeks warning, and we put the time to good use, deciding in the wee hours of the night before to gather a few items and scatter them strategically across the driveway.
What a waste of time that turned out to be, sitting in a lawn chair in a hot garage, waiting for the horde of people who couldn’t wait to buy our stuff to show up. It might have been tolerable, had that happened. Well a few cars did trickle by, and a couple of them actually stopped. One such family had a little girl, who strolled around our pretty pathetic offering, searching for something that might interest her.
Afterward, the defeated look on the girl’s face was just too much. Kathi ran into the house, and when she returned, she held a Barbie-themed kite in her hand, which she presented to the little girl, free of charge. The smile that came across that child’s face made it all worthwhile. You would have thought we’d given her a sack full of money.
Later we loaded up the car and went to the grocery store. Sometimes I don’t know how we stand all of the excitement. However, I’d thought my luck had changed when I stepped out of the car and caught a fleeting glimpse of legal tender. That’s right, floating gracefully across the parking lot was a Federal Reserve note. I’m glad no one had their cameras ready. I must have looked pretty silly chasing down the ill-fated loot, which turned out to be only a piece of a ten-dollar bill.
The following Monday, I strolled happily into the bank, expecting to trade my partial bill for a new one. The lady behind the counter moved so fast that it took me back to my childhood.
During the interlude, I recalled my stepfather bringing home a little black box, which he grinningly sat on the table. He showed me the slot on top where one was supposed to insert a quarter. Without explaining, he left the box there and went into the other room. A quarter was a lot of money to a kid back then. But how could I not put one into that slot? When I did, the box began to shake and quiver then a hand shot out and grabbed the coin. Both the hand and the coin disappeared into the little black box, never to be seen again, at least by me.
It was a lot like that at the bank. The lady snatched the mutilated money from my hand.
“There’s not enough of the bill remaining for me to give you a replacement,” she said, “but we’ll happily dispose of it for you.”
Wow, left without so much as a conversation piece.
I have what I believe to be some great news. Twisted Perception, the 1st Elliot novel in the now (I wish) infamous series, is now available in Audiobook format. Yea!!! I can practically hear the squeals of delight, coming from my adoring fans as the momentousness of this epic event dawns on them. And now, here is the link:
Picking up where we left off in the last post, what was it, exactly, that urged me off the sofa and into the writing chair?
As is often the case, the answer to the question is a bit complicated or perhaps multifaceted might be more descriptive. I’ll try to explain. Some of you might remember the cartoon character, Droopy. Those who don’t can easily look it up. Anyway, the animated pooch was famous for his droopy face, which intentionally defied and hid the emotion going on inside the character. I used to be a lot like that. However, most of us reach a point in our lives, typically around the middle-age mark, where we become disillusioned with the way things have turned out. Never being one to under emphasize things, I rode the disappointment wave with a zeal that would have made old Droopy crack a smile. Stephen King summed it up quite well when he wrote: Creative people tend to have creative breakdowns. I believe the phrase showed up in his novel, Duma Key, but I could be wrong about that.
But that’s enough of that. Long story short, Kathi and I lost everything we had and moved back to Tulsa to start over. It’s turned out all right. Rather than give in to self-pity, I directed my frustration and poured my anger into my characters, especially the villains, cathartically cleansing my soul in the process. I know, but I have to get expressive now and then. The writing has been good for me. Through my characters and the stories they populate I’ve learned a lot about them, and about myself.
I hope my emotionally charged characters and unusual stories have, and will continue to entertain you.
The need to create stories, characters in situations, seems to be a part of my makeup. However, had I not taken a certain class during my 9th year in school, – I won’t mention how long ago that was – my novels might have existed only in my imagination.
As it turned out, typing was a required subject in those days. Otherwise, I would never have enrolled in such a class. And had it not been for Mr. Brown, who was in the habit of giving his budding typists a qualified free-time during the last ten to fifteen minutes, it still might not have clicked. I say qualified because we couldn’t leave the classroom, talk amongst ourselves, or cause any disturbances, but other than that it was ours. We could use the time to practice the day’s assignment, do our homework, or sit quietly. I did none of these things. I began typing short stories.
I truthfully don’t know where this came from. I grew up in a blue-collar family in every sense of the word. I was taught a very no-nonsense style of life. And, quite frankly, reading, much less writing, was never discussed. I was never told it was a waste of time, but it was pretty much inferred.
Nevertheless, there I was, alone with my typewriter, and short stories, featuring a bungling superhero began spilling out. I didn’t take the stories home and I didn’t dare tell anyone I was writing them. I just left them on my desk, hoping someone would read them. As it turned out, I developed quite a following, as it didn’t take the students long to figure out who was creating the comical series.
Unfortunately, or not, depending on how you look at it, after the class was over I went back to being who I was before; a shy boy who avoided attention. Many years later, the dormant but never extinguished desire fought its way out again.
Click the link below to read a sample of Beneath a Buried House:
Kathi and I often have lunch in a park that’s located in an area, which is not far from where we work. One day during the May monsoon of 2015, a curious break in the precipitation occurred during one of these luncheon interludes, which offered a short opportunity that the birds and squirrels quickly took advantage of.
Feeling sorry for the critters, Kathi threw out a few scraps of bread. Typically, the birds battle it out for precedence over the handout. However, on this occasion, in the midst of the ornithological onslaught, a squirrel fought its way in and grabbed a tidbit of the soggy bread. The squirrel immediately jumped onto a wooden pole just in front of the car, where he began to eat his procured morsel, as if, in order to honor his benefactors, he chose to dine with us within the bird battlefield, rather than retreating to higher ground.
Afterward, the weekend, now seemingly cemented in routine, came and went rather quickly. Sunday afternoon, after church, and after staring through the window at the steady rain, I step into the office to get a bit of writing done. However, as often is the case, my mind refuses to cooperate, and my hopes of diving into the world of Detective Elliot are dashed. I begin to go bonkers. I’m the type of person, who has to have something to do; all the time. This can be a good thing, but it hardly ever seems that way. I should envy those people who enjoy sitting on the couch for hours completely submersed in some television program, but I don’t. I cannot even begin to understand it. Even the thought of it drives me up the wall. But nothing else comes to mind, so I decide to give it a try.
Have you noticed that most reality programs concentrate more on personal problems between the participants than they do on what the show is supposed to be about? I love cars. I always have. When I decide to watch a program that’s supposed to be about cars, I want to see the cars, and not worry over Joe Blow getting the wrong part and missing some trumped up, artificial deadline.
And what is it with all the prescription medicine commercials? Aren’t commercials designed to convince us to buy stuff? And shouldn’t doctors be making those decisions?
I switch off the television and begin to make laps around the kitchen and dining room. The rain continues. It’s commonly believed that the amount of water on earth never changes, but gets recycled, moved around in some way. The water you drink today could have been swallowed by dinosaurs millions of years ago. I do not find this thought pleasing. However, if that is the case, it stands to reason that if one area is experiencing too much water, then other places are dealing with too little. I pray for balance, not for the rain to end, but for it to move on to areas where it is needed.
I think back to the squirrel, and how his attention seemed to be completely trained on eating his lunch. Of course I cannot know what was going on inside his furry, little head, but I imagine it all revolved around the bread. That would make a good line in a poem. I don’t think the squirrel was concerned about what had happened yesterday, and I doubt he was worried about what might happen tomorrow.
God does work in mysterious ways. Through the squirrel, he reminded me that life does not have to be complicated. Throughout the New Testament of the Bible, Jesus often makes this point, for those who have eyes to see, and ears to listen.
And now for something completely different:
Typically, I tend to bury the business side of things near the bottom of the newsletter. My lovely wife, Kathi, often comments on this, subtly suggesting better luck might be had by exercising a different approach. I’ve decided to try it.
And now for the rest of the story:
And there I was, (I’m using a lot of Ands in this newsletter) strolling the isles of some mega-mart when I drop to my knees to explore the bargain-brand (Hyphens too) section in an area of the store dedicated to the killing of bugs.
A collection of dust, and spider web covered cans occupies that particular spot on the bottom shelving.
I begin to reach for one of the cans, though further reflection upon the condition of the product causes me to pause. (Hmm… something poetic about that) Should there be spider webs on a can of bug spray? I realize the ultimate purpose of the metallic packaging is to maintain the contents within the confines, but there’s something about spiders congregating upon that which should repel them that just isn’t right.
As I remain there in the crouching-tiger position, still undecided upon the potential possession of non-lethal bug paraphernalia, I overhear someone in the next isle excitedly exclaiming: “Did I tell you we found grandma?”
Grandma, I wonder? Is she okay? How long has she been missing? Could I be one isle away from a tearful, family reunion, years in the making?
Seconds later, a man, propelling his wheelchair precariously balanced on two wheels, speeds around the corner. A crazed look covers his face. “Did I tell you we found grandma?” He asks.
I smile. “I’m so happy for you.”
I rise to me feet then, while projecting the best nonchalant attitude I could muster, I continue to pretend I’m shopping, while in reality I’m beating the hastiest retreat that doesn’t look like one in the history of mankind.
I’ve now lost all interest in bug spray. All I want is to get out of the store. However, my fall through the wormhole, or rabbit hole, or whatever isn’t exactly over.
I mount an evasive maneuver down another isle, but as I approach a man in Bermuda shorts – who has the audacity to wear with the atrocity, dress shoes with white socks rolled down over his ankles – reaching for a jar of olives, he suddenly turns and grabs my arm. He’s also smoking a pipe. Gripping the stem with his teeth, he grins around it, a bizarre Hugh Hefner from… Well you get the point.
Wait a minute, I think. You can’t smoke in stores anymore.
“You just never know about people,” bizarre Hugh says. He points to a lady perusing the pickles. “She’s soccer mom nine to five, but jams as a base player for some punk, rock band, making the nightclub scene by night.”
“How do you know this?”
“It’s my job,” he says. “Did you happen to notice the slender, black man in the cereal, isle?”
“Not that I recall?”
Hugh shakes his head. “You’re going to have to pay better attention. Later in the week, Mr. Cereal will put his all into gambling, energetically high-fiving plastic and steel, while he prays to the electronic circuitry of a slot machine, harbored in a dark corner of a small casino outside the limits of some dusty, Oklahoma, town.”
I roll over in bed and remind myself not to eat pizza so late at night.
Brother Bob’s Newsletter
1st Quarter, 2015
I’ve worked on my share of cars, performing some fairly difficult procedures in the process, mostly out of necessity. When the repair costs exceed your bank balance, you have to do something. However, I do not, even in the farthest reaches of imagination, consider myself a mechanic. With me, it’s take off the old part and put on a new one. If that doesn’t work, I’m lost.
It’s different with the BMW. I’m not sure why. I’ve owned cars produced outside the United States before, and I have worked on them. Not the case with the Bimmer. I’ve had the car for nearly a year now and I’ve only raised the hood a couple of times, even then approaching the intrusion with a mixture of trepidation and respect, a bit like visiting an antique shop where you fall into a state, which closely resembles reverence, speaking softly and keeping your hands to yourself.
My Bavarian fugue has not come without cost. Upon bringing the 328i home, and realizing my lack of knowledge, I immediately began an internet search for an independent BMW automotive specialist. I intentionally avoided the dealerships. It’s what I’ve always done with other cars.
Of course, I quickly found what I thought I was looking for. Answering the phone with, Hello, uh, yeah this is blank and blank auto, the guy convinced me to bring the car to his shop, an out-of-the-way, backstreet building with a garage in the back. Finding the place locked and having to bang on the door to get the guy’s attention should have given me a clue, and to be honest it had, but in my eagerness for things to work out like they should, I pushed the warning aside. I even let the big, grumpy, bearded proprietor’s gruff attitude slide. What kind of BMW mechanic insults his customers for owning the kind of car he repairs? Well, after researching the subject on the internet, apparently a lot of them. Taking it all in stride, I kept the mechanic on board for a few months, going along with his recommended repairs. And then it happened. During my last visit, which was right before the Thanksgiving holiday, the guy changed the oil and in addition ordered some parts for the car, which he charged me for with instructions to bring the car back in a few days for installation.
Well you’ve probably guessed where I’m going with this. After the allotted time had expired, I called the shop but received no answer. I repeated the process for about a week, leaving messages that were never returned. Finally, I drove to the location but found the building locked up. This time no one answered my door banging.
Not all was lost. I disputed the charges for the parts, and the credit card company refunded me. However, it was then that I began to wonder what exactly had been done for the car. If the mechanic had been dishonest about the parts, what else had he done, or not done?
I began to search for another shop. Having jumped the gun on my previous attempt at procuring affordable but effective European auto care, I increased my efforts and widened the scope of the search. I do sometimes learn from my mistakes. I even sought online referrals and perused available comments associated with the shops. A few days later, after narrowing my list of prospective automotive gurus down to three, I sent emails, inquiring about the cost of possible service. Two of the prospects proved to exceed what I considered my price range. However the third shop on the list began to look like a possibly viable option. Their prices seemed appropriate and their website offered further encouragement. In addition, the return email contained language urging me to call a provided phone number.
“I’m glad you called,” the voice coming over the phone said. “My name is blank, and we’re all about long-term relationships. Why don’t you come by the shop and let me show you around?”
I told the mechanic I’d get back with him but I had no intentions of doing that. I hung up the phone and took a hot shower. After that, I gave up and called the dealership.
I don’t wish to leave you with the wrong impression. I love the BMW. It’s an absolute thrill to drive and it has never failed me. The only thing I’ve taken the car to the shop for is oil changes. The minor repairs were for things recommended by the first mechanic. I’m not sure if any of it was necessary, or if any of the work was actually done.
I want to thank everyone who has signed up for my newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it. If you know of someone who might enjoy it, too, please email it to them. Thanks.
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