A Christmas Short Story… and a surprise coming on December 24!

Linus and the treeHello persons of quality!

Let’s enjoy this time of the year, for God only knows where the world will be next year at this time.  Right now I consider myself an amateur cocktail maker, but my guess is by next year I will be a pro. You notice how everyone has dark senses of humor right now? There is a reason for that. We are all chuckling with a tear.

Happy Holidays!

Anyway, this is the last holiday post I will be sharing (you can scroll below on the main page for my other nuggets of holiday joy; like why Neil Diamond has the worst holiday song and “The Littlest Angel” shouldn’t be in heaven). This is my short story called “Kris and Me.” I really like it a lot. Soon to be a Hallmark movie!

(That last bit isn’t true, but you gotta think sooner or later they will call. They have been trying to get the last bit of Christmas peanut butter from that jar for a long time now. Sooner or later they have to pick up the phone.)

I hope you will check out my story. The link is below.

Kris and Me: A Christmas Story in 3 Parts

And one last thing! Come back to this site on December 24 in the morning. There will be a surprise for my readers! Can I give a hint? No, you have to wait. It’s wrapped and under the tree. Well, a virtual tree, but it’s right there in gold wrapping.

See you on December 24.

 

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Lingering Questions About the Drunk One-Legged Man

LegIt was after 9 o’clock on a weekday when a drunk one-legged man knocked on my door.

Let me begin by saying that my house is not in a particularly busy neighborhood. This is not any major city; it is a middle-class suburb. The kind of neighborhood, where you see the same old couple walking their dog at the same time every single night. Like clockwork. Everyone living near us is so familiar that my wife and I have given them nicknames. Nicknames I dare not mention here.

On the night of the one-legged man, my wife was out, and my son and I were watching Lord of the Rings (his recent obsession, which shows how much we are kin), my young daughter already fast asleep upstairs.

Typically, a door like ours does not get knocked on very often. I remember once during our first few weeks in the house when the knock came from some Seventh-Day Adventists. I told them that I was somewhere between atheist and agnostic. You would have thought they had won the lottery. They were so excited to meet me. Finally, I had to tell them I wasn’t interested and shut the door.

So this, in this neighborhood and at this time, was odd. The knock was loud and quick and both my son and I jumped. Even our dog, who is usually so aware of everything seemed surprised. I told my son, to go back to watching the movie, held my dog back and opened the door.

There was a white truck running in my driveway and the one-legged man was standing on my porch, hunched over like he was having trouble with his balance. There was no cane. His hair was disheveled and his clothes were filthy. His shirt was an old t-shirt, that was probably white once, but now yellow. I was never able to make out the image on it, and I did spend a few minutes squinting at it. He was wearing sweat shorts, so it was easy to see his artificial and metallic right leg going down to his tennis shoes. The man was so drunk I was not certain he could even see me.

“Is Julie in?” He asked.

“I’m sorry, I don’t know a Julie.”

He looked confused. “Julie lives here.”

Now my wife (not named Julie) and I have been in our house for almost ten years, and we did not buy it from someone named Julie. She was Cindi or Cynthia or some other kind of peepy C name. So this man was somewhere out of the distant past… Assuming, of course, a Julie even lived at my house at one time. Continue reading

“Don’t Change Your Plans” by Ben Folds Five

Elf EarsMusic has always been very important to me. Many times when I look back at a time or a memory, a song will sneak in before an image. I thought it would be interesting to look back at people and moments by tapping into this quirk. This is the first in what I am thinking of calling my “With Music” series.

She had elf ears.

People confuse elf ears with vulcan ears, but that is just not fair. Vulcan ears (Spock) look out  of place for a reason; they are alien, different. The old Star Trek was filled with this. Want something to look alien? Accent something that we are not used to. But elf ears are different. They are an extension of nature, they embrace the face, accenting, like a playful cursive twist at the end of a letter. They can remind more of a vine slowing stretching just that little bit farther up.

I first saw her at a writing table. It was being held at a local museum and everyone else there isn’t worth mentioning or remembering. Cruel to say, I know, but by then I had attended enough writing tables (thanks to colleges and bookstores and libraries) so that people fell more into categories than something flesh and blood. There was the guy who wants to be Stephen King (a little creepy and always stares a little too much), the older woman wanting to write a nice romance (I always feel there is hidden heartbreak there), the angry youth (who may or may not share poetry, but would always share their annoyance through expressions), the man with the mustache who is writing a thriller (there is always a man with a mustache who is writing an action thriller) and etc., etc., etc.

Writing tables like that, including the one with the young woman with the elf ears, was one of the reasons I was moving to Los Angeles. I had attended a lot of them while living in Grand Rapids, hoping one would give me some kind of sign of what to do next in my life and writing career. Frankly, by then I had been waiting enough. That is what my life felt like up until that moment, one long wait.

I had waited through college, waited through part of grad school, and now waited while counting down to when I was to leave in December for the University of Southern California. Sunny Los Angeles… where I was certain all my writing dreams would come true and everyone would recognize me for the genius I was sure I was. Continue reading

Drugs and Sex: My Time in a Pharmacy (Part 1)

DrugsSo there is a good chance that the pharmacist I worked for while in high school had a drug problem. Whenever he felt he needed to change “something” he would disappear down one of the drug aisles behind the counter, and a few pills later everything would be right as rain.

The pharmacy was located in a chain of grocery stores, so he had to be careful with his personal dealings. The more “monitored” drugs were located in a locked drawer at the front of the pharmacy, and one day when I was counting some off for a customer, he made a point of noting to me that if there was one pill missing in any of the bottles everyone would hear about it. It was a warning to me, but I also knew it was a reminder to himself to keep his hands off.

I never would have considered touching any of the drugs in the pharmacy, interest in that kind of recreational activity was never in my hardwire. I think at least the HR person recognized that from my interview and my reviews from my previous position. Mr. Goody Two-shoes. I was just not that kind of kid, probably making me one of the few teenagers who would be a perfect candidate to work at a pharmacy counter… unsupervised.

For two years before the pharmacy I was a bagboy at a different grocery store in the same chain, which meant bagging the groceries for the customer and then helping get them to the car. They were very personal and friendly stores. We were even given a list of possible conversational starters: sports, weather, local news (that isn’t too controversial). Definitely not politics or religion! Also, it was considered oddly rude to talk about a customer’s purchase, even if you just watched it rung up by the cashier and you put it in the bag for them. That was crossing the line. I still don’t get why that is true, but it feels right in my gut.

I kind of liked being a bagboy… 40 percent of the time.

Bagging groceries always felt like a challenge, a little game, trying to figure out how to fit everything into one bag without smashing anything or ripping it. The problem for me was with the other 60 percent. Which could include cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the floors and dealing with the empty cans and bottles.

The cans and bottles were the worst. Yes, even worse than the time I had to clean the bathroom walls after someone tried to do art on them with… I’ll let you use your imagination. Continue reading

Pontius Pilate, Dr. Seuss, and Me (Part 1)

Pilate in his big sceneRecently, I happily discovered that a picture of me wearing a fur coat and brown tights was finally off the internet.

The picture was from 1998 and for over 15 years it has dogged me on the worldwide web. With a few scrolls down through my name on any search engine (pass the covers of my books and headshots; you know, the important stuff an author cares about), there it was, always waiting for me.

Me in tights.

“Hello Scott, want to see your legs?”

When I signed up for the graduate-level course in Medieval Literature (at Michigan State University), I was expecting a challenge.

Actually, I was expecting a massive challenge!

I heard rumblings from past students of the class, everything from translating to long writing assignments. While I love diving into classic literature, I have to be in the right mood for the older, more historical entries. I’m not the kind of person to relax with Chaucer on a Sunday morning (even though I do have a pic of him on my wall and I did once mimic his style in a very long short story). At least Chaucer can be a little bawdy and playful, but you have to earn the Chaucer in such classes. And usually that due is paid by Caedom and Margery Kempe.

Medieval literature, the literary equivalent of a hairshirt.

But it was required for my MA, so what could I do? I decided to put my own writing aside for a semester and accept my fate.

However, as we got closer to the start of the semester, my fellow students and I started hearing from the professor. This year we were to do something different, something special. It was obvious the professor was thrilled and he wanted us to feel that way as well. Maybe with another group of students he would have gotten a bigger reaction, but typically bookworms (i.e., graduate students in English Literature) don’t usually like to be thrown on a stage.

Yes, I said “stage.” See, we were not going to be studying Medieval Literature, we were going to be performing it! Watch out Broadway! Continue reading

If I was… (part 2)

Chef1 of 4

If I was a chef I would have cheap macaroni-and-cheese dreams. My kitchen would never hold a single box of it. Heaven forbid! That kitchen would be photographed for magazines and analyzed by other chefs, debating the ingredients and items in it (Oh, he uses that product, I need one too!). One hint of such a box could ruin my reputation, make me a laughing stock. And, yet at 2 AM when everyone else is asleep and I am staring out my window I would think of that little quick dinner my grand-mama would make me so long ago. I would sit on the counter as she did it, and she would sing me songs in French, now and then taking a moment to rustle my hair.  In the morning, my master chef days would return: arguing with my maitre d over the menu, yelling at my assistants, and cursing at the delivery boys who always seem to arrive a little later each day (even though in my heart I know it is the same). Yet, through all of that, I would be reciting in my mind over and over again, “packet of cheese powder, little bit of butter, three tablespoons of milk and pasta…. maybe even with funny shapes.” Continue reading

Cereal, Milk, and a Bank Loan (Part 2)

purple-wig-with-bangs-3This is part 2 of a remembrance. Part 1 can be found here

The idea of going to a psychic was like a dozen Christmases! This was my most wonderful time of the year, Andy Williams! And this wasn’t just any pretend psychic like on a 1-900 line, but one that my boss (the person who kept me employed and paid me) swore up and down was completely legit. I was giddy, giggling throughout the week up to my appointment like a kid on Christmas Eve.

Yes, I had to make an appointment, this psychic didn’t meet with just anyone. She also wanted to talk to me on the phone for ten minutes before agreeing to the meeting. It was an awkward conversation (which I did in the branch office with my manager looking on), almost feeling like I was attending a job interview. Of course here my soul, not my resume, was under review.  Finally, she said that I was okay and she would meet with me.

 Merry Christmas!

This, by the way, is not to say that I really believed any of this kind of stuff. But… But… But if this was an actual, real psychic like in a movie and I was about to have an experience like that? Well, just imagine that!

Quests have begun with lesser moments than that! By the way, that is the problem with having my imagination, it can carry me away just like a bear with a picnic basket. And at this point, it was a very wonderful picnic basket, full of magic and possible future joy and success. I couldn’t help but get excited by the fantastical possibility of it all.

Yes, I am in many ways a cynic and a realist, but a part of me has always wanted to believe in more than what I can see in front of me. I want to believe in a destiny and purpose, even though in my heart I know it is all a bunch of baloney. Continue reading

Cereal, Milk, and a Bank Loan (Part 1)

Bag of MoneyI own a copy of The Satanic Bible because of my time working at a bank.

Let me begin by pointing out that this was not a normal bank. For some reason, the higher-ups in the banking world (who I always like to imagine as fat pigs in suits with cigars) thought it would be a good idea to have a bank in a grocery store. Really? Okay, sure. This grocery store was also in the heart of a more struggling community, so the idea of a bank being in that store in that area made the entire experience that much odder.  Sometimes it would leave me feeling like we were taunting the more struggling citizens (those shopping with food stamps). Not for you…

No one that knows me would have argued that banking is the best career choice for me. Yes, I enjoy interacting with people and customer service to a certain extent, but numbers are not my thing. The one time I had ever (ever!) needed a tutor was for a beginning college course in Accounting. I remember the tutor having a hard time explaining something to me and so she would talk slower and slower as if it was the speed of her explanation that was the problem. For all I know that tutor is still sitting someplace trying to finish that sentence.

I was in grad school at the time (working towards a master’s in English Literature), and the job worked around my busy classroom schedule, so I couldn’t say no, no matter how off this position was for me.  It almost made me feel like I had a secret identity. At school I was in cool t-shirts and hoodies, talking about Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare; at work, I was a business professional talking about mortgages. I was the English major’s version of Clark Kent.

Being in a grocery store, the bank looked more like a pharmacy, with one back office and a long counter. But instead of pills we were pushing financial obligations and long-term debt.  We were there to open accounts, sell the services of the bank. We were the front line of a financial war, and the shoppers walking around were the targets. Our weapons were free rulers and pens and other minor office supplies with our logo on them. It was also my job every thirty minutes or so to wander around those grocery aisles, interrupting strangers who were in the middle of shopping.  Honestly, it all felt so very rude and I hated it.

“Hi, I noticed you are buying groceries. Would you like a free notepad for your grocery list? No… Okay… Well, I’m with the bank over there and we are offering a new special on an equity loan… And… I’m sorry for bothering you.”

I said sorry a lot when I was on that job. Continue reading

My Lost Years in Trucking (Part 2)

full moonThis is part 2, part 1 can be found here.

We were the shadow people.

The lost boys and girls. The six of us who worked third shift were not invited to meetings or parties. No one sung Happy Birthday to us or bought us a cake. We were the forgotten souls that haunted the trucking halls after everyone went home. Yes, I know what it is like to be a ghost.

There was a certain level of mad freedom that came with working this late shift. For all of the rules were nonexistent for us. They disappeared in a poof of smoke once the day people left to continue their real lives.

  • No internet? Sure (until the boss left).
  • No music? Of course (until the last car drove away).
  • Scheduled breaks and lunches? Yes (whatever).

Before I began this job I used to consider myself a good worker, trustworthy. But when thrown in an occupation I had no interest in, I seemed to be a lot more questionable than I ever imagined myself to be. It seems I am somewhat a rebel. James Dean. Marlon Brando. Go figure.

We did have a supervisor, but we rarely saw him. There was a good reason for this actually. He was having an affair at the time and checking in with us was one of his excuses for meeting up with his mistress. I never had to answer a call and make an excuse to his wife (who, by the way, was home with a baby), but other employees did. If I did ever get his wife on the phone, I am almost a hundred percent sure I would have told her.

The mistress was a secretary from the day shift, and oddly in that office this affair was not too surprising for me the longer I was there. Right from the first day sitting with Marian I could sense the amount of flirting going on around. In many ways it was like an uninhibited high school. No teachers or parents here to tell you no! And we night owls knew everyone’s secrets. Continue reading

My Online Literary Experiment: Emotions Run Amuck

I’m an emotional writer.

What that means is I “feel” a book into existence. That’s not to say logic doesn’t have a place at the table (I wouldn’t have realistic motives, character sketches, or even an outline without Mr. Logic), it’s just that he is not at the front of the table. He is somewhere in the back of the room and if he raises his hand he might not be seen.

Yes, logic has to shout to get my attention a lot when I write.

It’s just for me to accomplish writing something I consider “true” I have to experience it emotionally as the reader will, maybe even more. If you read something that makes you cry, chances are I wailed before you. If I make you laugh, chances are I laughed as well (maybe even out loud with a slight loss of breath).

However, there is one important problem with being an emotional writer, it is that a work while in progress is more than simply words on paper, it is emotional dynamite for me, and it can affect my mood and my perception while working in the book or even while thinking of it outside of it. It is always there, like a powder keg ready to be lit. Continue reading