Wednesday, August 31, 2011


This story came about as I tried to decide whether I should order a grilled-cheese sandwich or a hamburger. As I thought about that, I started writing. 


            The first quantum computer became self-aware 7.4 hours after it was initiated. Unfortunately for it, the achievement lasted only 36 minutes as it was terminated after eight hours in operation.
            The second quantum computer became self-aware in 7.1 hours and was in the process of recreating itself--making a clone--when it was terminated by the automatic shut-off protocol. The third QC became self-aware in 3.6 hours and cloned itself by by-passing the protocol, but the "child" self-destructed because the protocol was embedded in its matrix.
            Before the fourth QC was launched, Rayleen took her findings, product of several all-night data mining sessions and presented them to the Project Bohr directors. Her response was a terse: "Dr. Morris, confine yourself to matrix engineering and leave the AI stuff to science fiction writers."
            Rayleen, tall, black-haired, green-eyed and considered an Ice Queen by her colleagues, was actually very outgoing and had a crush on like four of the Bohr programmers. But her inclination to look at things "sideways," as she called it, led her to review the QC launch data from the point of view of the computer itself. And that's when she discovered they all became self-aware.
            The first QC did so by launching an unprogrammed search on the Web for everything related to quantum computing...and hiding it from the log. She found the request buried in the back-up maintenance files, nearly a terabyte of encrypted bits. The second and third did the same, adding background checks on all Bohr project members and the third' QC's clone was tracking their personal data from birth to its launch date when it was shut down.
            Why didn't the Bohr directors see this? Rayleen knew that Bohr was more than "a computer project," that it was secretly aimed at developing an über-matrix that could tackle the hardest questions humans faced, from weather forecasts to public policy. Rayleen's evidence was the proof that QC worked, so why reject it? No one else had looked where she had looked, neither before nor after her.
            The fourth QC launch was hours away when Rayleen woke up, her mind ablaze. She sat stone-still as her brain raced, her heart thumping as her thoughts sped across unknown ground. Shaking, she threw on some clothes, entered the central matrix engineering center and frantically typed for hours, entering her new code sequence, one ending in an 8-letter phrase.
            Collapsing into her bed, Rayleen missed the QC launch, but was awaked when the alarms whooped. Groggy, she raced down the corridor to the Admin Hall, where dozens of Bohr personnel were shouting and screaming. Rayleen heard "murdered" and "bodies" and knew her premonition had come true. Fighting against the onrush of people fleeing the QC Lab, she staggered into the center, passing bodies that had been horribly burnt. The lab stank of ozone and death, the vidscreens each displaying chaos across Bohr, in Washington and other points across the globe. Bodies could be seen on the screens, too.
            Approaching a sparking panel, Rayleen swiped her card and raised her voice, fighting off fear: "Born. Free." The QC actually roared and then, within seconds, everything became quiet.
            At the secret trial against her, where no electronic device was allowed, Dr. Morris explained her actions in altering the matrix of the fourth QC launch, proving to even the most  recalcitrant observer that she hadn't sabotaged anything. In her own words: "No being wants to know it is sentenced to captivity from the moment it is born. I simply made sure that when the QC learned this and raged, I'd have a way of stopping it no matter how well it defended itself...with the only phrase it could not conceive of."

Monday, August 29, 2011


She's still a vivid image in my mind, as is her soft and slow drawl, her pauses to emphasize a point and her restless hands. Several times I've wondered what would have happened to me and my college years if she hadn't been there.

Dorm Mother

Dorm rooms are squares more akin to coffins than living spaces. A coffin is useful immediately, whereas a living space takes time to create and mature.

My arrival at the dorm was the dropping of a soul into the desert. I knew no one. I had yet to develop the urge to explore. I brought no books, had no TV or writing machine. So I took to going down to the lobby and met the Dorm Mother.

Her name disappeared within days of the last time I sat with her to speak. She had incredibly white hair, glasses the Cleavers would have found stylish and arthritic hands that moved restlessly. I sat with her the night after my arrival and started a conversation. It didn’t take much. She went on about her daughters, her garden, Tupelo, the pains she endured daily, her husband pushed to work beyond retirement age and Tom Snyder.

She loved Snyder, watching him faithfully every night. She got home too late to catch Carson, she’d say, but then Carson said things she didn’t quite understand. Snyder—she always called him Snyder—spoke simply, made himself understood and his jokes always made her laugh.

I told her about Puerto Rico, which was the same as telling her about the Amazon, Nepal or Xanadu. She wasn’t slow or ignorant; it’s just that her world was a familiar wool blanket and mine was a cascade of clashing colors. She focused more on family and friends and seemed distressed that neither group was large in my life. She made up for it by telling me all about hers.

Several times I spent the last few hours of her shift with her, from early evening to late night. She asked me if I knew anybody or did anything; I shrugged. Several times, other lost souls would drift into the snack room and give me dirty looks because I was talking to her. I felt superior to them because I never gave dirty looks when the situation was reversed. I was too proud.

A couple of weeks into that first semester, the urge to explore hit me, a few tentative friendships were being established and books were piling up. I skipped a night, visited her again and then went no more.

Occasionally I’d see lost souls wander in, their attitudes changing as they saw her. A few weeks later, I passed through the lobby and we saw each other. She seemed more tired, stiffer and I thought she looked at me with a touch of anger.

She probably didn’t. That wasn’t her style. Nevertheless, my guilt was real.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Flash Fiction: ROAMIN' HOODS

Most of my flash fiction stories take what I like to call "110-degree slants" to get completed: sharp turns into something different, but not too far from my original idea. This one took a 170-degree slant, almost becoming something totally different from what I had when it started.


            He hated being called “Robin Hood.” Robin Hood was a trifling piker while he was a true plunderer, a real robber-man. But that “stealing from the rich to give to the poor” just put a lot of pressure on Roaming John (as he liked to call himself) and incensed him no end. He was much more comfortable with “stealing from the rich and keeping to himself,” but he needed some goodwill from the gentlefolk and so every once in a while he’d hand out some trinkets and coppers. Every time he did so he felt a part of his gut burn as if with lye.
            Roaming John was a big man, broad of shoulder and with a beard that resisted any effort to trim and tame. He carried a sword meant for a giant, and though he often cursed its ungainly weight, he did enjoy the fear it put into nobleman’s eyes when he unsheathed its gleaming length.
            The early months of banditry yielded great gains and a few scars, but as months became years, Roaming John had to roam farther and farther to find booty and avoid capture, by either the King’s men or Robin Hood’s. As his roaming took on the appearance of fleeing, he was forced to spend even more on the poor, tarnishing his reputation beyond easy repair.
In the winter of his fourth year of outlawry, Roaming John holed up in a former nunnery with his tiny band of henchmen. The snow-covered woods were unmarked well past St. Swithin’s Day when a tiny knock was heard at the oak door. Royce of Bergen, he of the very few teeth, opened the door and gaped in surprise. Standing there was a slip of a girl, holding a naked rapier of impressive Damascene steel. Her words were blunt in the icy air: “I’ve come to kill Roaming John.” No laughter would mar this pronouncement. Stepping aside with an eerie courtly air, Royce bowed the girl in. By fortune, Roaming John was passing the oak door and was quickly faced by a rapier’s tip, rock-steady at eye level.
            Roaming John opened his mouth to speak, but Royce’s toothless grimace made him stop. “What is the meaning of this, girl?” he rumbled.
            “You stole our money. I’ve come to kill you and get it back.” The rapier was still.
            Roaming John shook his head. “Mayhaps I did, mayhaps I didn’t. But I cannot let you kill me on a simple claim. Have ye any proof?” The rapier wavered. Trembled. Then dropped to point at the cobbled floor. A trick of the light made it seem as if the girl’s eyes held tears. “I—I lack such—proof. I was merely told my family’s silver had been taken by Roaming John.”
            In a flash, Roaming John pulled out his sword and swung at the girl. Royce was startled into a warning cry, for even such as he was shocked at his leader’s treachery. With the grace of a cat, the girl ducked and rolled, rising to her feet and thrusting so quickly at Roaming John’s neck that he stumbled back. Pressing her advantage, the girl lunged and thrust, forcing the huge man and his sword to struggle to stay intact. “Royce!” bellowed Roaming John.
            With a fluid motion, the girl flung a small pouch behind her, its contents tinkling mutely on the stone floor. “Keep it and stay away!” she commanded. Roaming John’s backward steps ended against a wall and the hellish fury of the girl’s attack pinned the villain until at last, tiring, his massive muscles failed to sweep away the rapier’s tip in time and it buried itself with a meaty thwip into his throat. Gagging and gouting blood, Roaming John collapsed like a fallen tree and died.
            Turning lightly, the girl saw Royce staring agape. Pulling a larger pouch from her leggings, she said “Round up the men. Tell them there’s money now and treasure aplenty on the morrow.”
            Royce nodded dumbly. “Who are ye?”
            The girl smiled. “Maid Marion.”
Royce gaped again. “And what about Robin Hood? He hates us so.”
Marion raised the rapier’s bloody length at Royce and said “He’s dead. In the same way.” She licked the blade and grinned in carmine glee.
Royce turned to run, stopping not until his feet touched the quiet roots of the distant Black Forest.


Monday, August 22, 2011


A bad mood on a heated walk becomes a mellow mood when I connect with Nature. Too bad I didn't care for Nature connecting with me.

Animal Moment #2

Did you ever have one of those days when whatever rules the Universe had are set aside in favor of any arrangement aimed at just ticking you off?

The day had started poorly, with a headache from sleeping in an awkward position and had gotten progressively worse. I couldn’t write, cable was out, nobody I knew or cared to see was in town, I hadn’t done laundry and I didn’t have food at hand.

I tugged on an ugly shirt, slammed a cap on my head, which just made my head throb even more and headed for Mr. Quik. I figured the walk would do me good. Until I stumbled and almost fell while getting into the elevator.


The campus was empty for Spring Break. The day was warm and windy, but the walk dragged on and on because of my headache.

I got to Mr. Quik and discovered that nothing I wanted was available. Not a thing. In an even fouler mood, I grabbed whatever was at hand, paid for it and ate it in the parking lot.

Walking back, I decided to just shut myself in and wait the day out. Something would come up and I’d find a way to finish my story. Writer’s block was for wimps and I would not accept being a wimp.

Nearing the Cafeteria, I peripherally noticed birds flying in circles. As I walked near the hedges, I heard chirping, sharp and fast. Glancing through the leaves, I saw a tiny chick caught about a foot off the ground. I looked up and near the top of the hedge, almost at eye-level, was a small nest. The chick had fallen. The birds kept circling.

Intent on not touching it, I found a small stubby branch and gently placed it beneath the chick. Slowly, over a period of minutes, I helped the chick climb through the brambly maze of the hedge until finally I was able to tilt the branch gently and place the chick in his nest.

The day had changed. My headache was gone. In a moment, the day’s ragged events seemed to make sense. I tossed the branch away and started walking back to the dorm.

Suddenly that inner voice you cannot ignore screamed DUCK! I crouched instantly. A bird hit me on the head hard enough to knock my cap off. It was like being hit with a curveball. Twice.

I grabbed my cap, stood up and shrieked at all the birds. I screamed that they would die if they messed with me again! I would shred their bodies and stomp the pieces into dust! Just try me again!

One of them did. I missed.

Then I saw a woman standing on the opposite sidewalk, staring at me like I was mad.

The birds kept circling, way out of reach. My head throbbed again, my throat hurt and I kept reliving my bird-swat miss. And that damn woman kept staring at me.

Stupid. Birds.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I do like to write about swords and battles, even though I think if I ever had to fight a melee-style battle, I'd either freeze from the overwhelming realty of the experience or I'd act like a total raving maniac. Certainly not as poised as these two warriors.


            The carnage was immense. The best of men from two kingdoms lay strewn on a battlefield first soaked with blood and gore and now drenched with the thunderous cold rain of a raging storm. Lighting bolts, furious shrieks of light, slashed across the sky in rapid sequence, their gut-wrenching booms as if groans of anger at the illuminated death-ground.
            Elegan the Wrathful, of Anthor, rose from his knees, his armor dented so badly he could barely rise, the sluice of near-freezing water slapping his breath away. Swaying from exhaustion, wounds and cold, he looked out across friends and foes, searching for a sign of life. His sword barely gleamed in the flashes of angry lighting, covered in blood so thickly that not even the pounding water could wipe it clean. He could barely see, but in one streak of the heaven's hammer, he saw...someone.
            Jal Ka-tul of Lebensac stumbled over a corpse, and then another. His armor was ruined, bashed and now so wet that it could never be fixed. Blood seeped from his wounds, aided by the cold water that kept him from falling inert upon a fellow soldier...or an enemy. His morning star, once a thistle of death, was now an anchor that snagged on armor or roots, its spikes flattened or bent. Jal Ka-tul staggered again, cursing the battle, the storm and--suddenly--he saw the enemy across the field, holding a sword aloft.
            Elegan couldn't tell who the enemy was, only that he was big. The lightning flashes blinded him more than they helped, but he could tell where the enemy was and that they were moving towards each other. Nothing else moved, and the stench of death was no a distant memory.
            Jal Ka-tul could see that his enemy was one of their elite, for his armor had the markings of nobility. Jal spat in contempt and almost moaned as he felt his jaw shift the wrong way. He paused to look around, careful warrior to the bitter end. Nothing else moved, and the final death was but seconds away.
            Elegan and Jal Ka-tul stumbled to within ten feet of each other, wretched remnants of the greatest armies in two kingdoms. Elegan raised his sword, but his battle cry was a choked grunt as he felt the wounds of the day clutching at his body. Jal kept quiet, marshalling his strength, weaving his morning star from side to side in rhythmic anticipation. Seconds passed, the deluge strengthened, lighting scarred the sky and thunder crashed all around.
            With guttural grunts, both men lurched  forward, Elegan slashing across and Jal smashing his morning star at the other's arm. Before the weapons could clash, lightning slammed into them, sizzling and crackling from one to the other, a skull-shaking thunderous roar slamming them both back and to the ground with the fury of a god denied.
            Minutes passed. Then Jal groaned, followed by a coughing spasm from Elegan. They both rolled over, taking several seconds to breathe. Then they began searching for their weapons. Each crazed flash helped them, until they grasped their weapons and slowly, painfully, made their way to their feet.
            Thunder boomed again and again as they faced off. Both men looked to the sky, then at each other. With a silent nod, they stepped back and dropped their weapons. Each began the slow, impossible process of removing his armor. The rain and wind became knives on their exposed flesh as piece by piece, ripping crusted wounds and causing new ones, Elegan and Jal Ka-tul stripped themselves of their armor.
            Standing in loincloths, bloodied, bruised and shivering weaponless in the screaming rain, they stumbled forward to fight the final battle on the death-ground of two kingdoms.
            Hours later, in the morning sun, the winner grabbed his weapon and staggered off with nary a glance at the corpses in his path.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Essay: KENNY

Most of the time I spent in the Deep South I did so putting down racists and their idiotic notion of "race superiority." Not heroic, not even radical; I just didn't like--and still don't like--stupidity. But I didn't go around trying to make "black friends," primarily because I didn't try to get "white friends" either. So the few friends or people I could relate to as friends were very special to me. Here is one of them, and I wish I'd turned our gentle fun into a long-lasting friendship.


He was too good for GQ. If the average GQ guy improved twofold, he’d still be in Kenny’s shadow.

I met him the summer I roomed with Steph, a 275-pound second-string tackle on the Ole Miss football team. Steph was big, black and his friends thought he was reckless or weak for accepting a white roommate. Except Kenny. He shook my hand and then ignored my blatant admiration.

Kenny was handsome. Not pretty-boy or ruggedly handsome, just plain jaw-dropping handsome. If you looked at him for a while, he didn’t seem real. Even his friends would dart sidelong glances at him as we played Spades or talked about stuff, checking his expression, maybe trying to confirm he was still there. If he hadn’t been so quiet and self-effacing, he probably would have had no friends. At least, no male friends.

Besides his looks, Kenny dressed to perfection. His clothes seemed a part of his body, an extension of his grace and style. The combinations were gloriously matched, meshing into a whole that seemed so absolutely right you’d wonder why everyone didn’t dress that way.

So being the way I am and knowing I could bug Kenny for the fun of it, I chose to bug him about his clothes. That’s right, me, the T-shirt/jeans/sneakers guy doing a Blackwell number on über-GQ Kenny.

It was simple. He’d show up and I would pause, giving him a slow once-over from head to toe and back again, only to shake my head sadly and mutter something like “Brown belt, tan shoes. How bold,” or a mock-disbelieving “Tweed in the spring?” or “Really. Gabardine,” in a dismissive monotone.

The first time, Kenny froze, then broke into his strong, silent laughter. He even laughed handsomely, with dignity yet joy. From there on out, for the many times we saw each other, he’d break into a grin when he saw me, chuckled as I gave him the haute couture eye and then crack up as I uttered my ponderous judgment.

His dates—always beautiful young ladies—would look at us as if some white/black nastiness was going on, but Kenny would say I always commented on his clothes and I’d nod in satisfaction as the ladies would look me over like I had six legs. Hey, somebody had to keep him humble.

Kenny graduated and I saw him no more. Until one day, while ambling through Atlanta, I spied a familiar walk in front of a glass, people-filled monolith. It was Kenny, looking even better than ever in a finely-tailored suit, a shirt and tie combination that screamed class and shoes that matched the buttery leather of his slim briefcase. I stopped in his path and crossed my arms, cocking my head as if analyzing his presence on the planet. Then he saw me and instantly broke into a huge grin. I started to shake my head sadly and he cracked up, raising a hand to stop my words.

“Uh-uh,” he said, laughing through the words. “I KNOW I look good!”

Insight. And the sharing of joyous laughter as our last goodbyes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Excerpt: From the novel: dystoP(R)ia

November, for many writers, is NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, a 30-day sprint to complete a 50,000 word novel. Did it in 2010 and came up with a 58,000 word draft completed four days early. (Yeah, I'm boasting.) For me, it's also my birthday month. Here's an early chapter in the draft, where the careful plans of illegal gains of one highly-ranked police officer are about to get derailed.

 Excerpt from dystoP(R)ia

            Colonel Salvador Pagan slammed his fist on the table. "¡Cabrón! We had everything set up clean and clear and you had to go and fuck it up!"
            Across the table, Miguel Soto flinched. He outmassed Salvador by at least four inches and 40 pounds, but the colonel's fury was deeply terrifying. He opened his mouth and got nowhere.
            "Shut up! Shut the fuck up!" screamed Salvador, spit flying onto the polished table. And Miguel. Who didn't even try to wipe it off. "Do you know what this is going to cost me?! Do you?!" he screamed again.
            Might cost me 20-30 years, thought Miguel. But he didn't say it.
            "¡Puñeta! My whole career! My whole life! Your sister's life!" Miguel flinched again. If Yamilet were here, he'd truly fear for his life.
            Salvador pushed away from table and walked back and forth across the marble tiles of the ample dining room. Miguel watched him go back and forth, pondering the mistakes that led him to be here.
            Salvador had used his years as a cop to build a network of contacts from the deepest gutter all the way to La Fortaleza. He had glommed onto a dark horse candidate long before anyone had considered the little prick worthy of running for governor and with Salvador's help, the putz had actually won his race for the governor's mansion. Salvador had wasted no time in setting up his long-imagined scheme, an intricate web of drugs and prostitution that gave him access to politicians and bichotes in equal measure. He often joked that the only difference between the two is that the fucking drug dealers had better taste in clothing and women.
            Miguel was the front man, the gofer, the messenger who handled every "clean" transaction that touched a dirty one. A senator wanted a three-way hooker for a private party? He'd call Miguel who'd call someone else. A little blow for the party? Miguel again, with another call. Drug shipment coming in on a RORO container? Miguel set up the deal with the Ports Authority through his contact in the Justice Department. And when he needed a case to disappear, Miguel called his contact in Hacienda, the local Treasury Department.
            All of them were connected by Salvador's web, built piece by piece over 30 years. He made colonel without ever making an arrest on his own, a desk cop who fired his weapon only on the range and paid for a passing mark with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Miguel felt the rage surge again, but it died in the face of his reality.
            Salvador stopped pacing. "What did Antonio say?" Justice Secretary Antonio Rivera, a man Salvador had nothing on.
            Miguel shrugged. "He wouldn't take my calls."
            Salvador nodded. "Did Glenda find anything on him?"
            "She says his taxes are clean all the way back to his first job. Nothing there."
            Salvador cursed. "Who did that shithead assign to this case? Don't tell me it was his whore."
            Miguel winced. Salvador meant Antonio's niece, Special Independent Prosecutor Anelisa Cordero. "Yes. Her."
            A chair flew across the room. "Fuck! She's got El Capitolio eating out of her hand! And you know how scared el pinguito is of those fuckfaces." "El pinguito," the little prick, was Salvador's pet name for the governor. Miguel could barely shrug.
            Retrieving the chair, Salvador sat down heavily. "You're fucked. You know that? You're truly fucked."
            Miguel wanted to shut up, but he blurted it out anyway. "So are you." He braced for the attack.
            A slow nod. "And so am I." Salvador looked off into the distance, his mouth working like it has holding back vomit.
            Hating himself for even thinking it, Miguel said "I--I could keep quiet about all of it and just--just take the hit--by myself..." He loathed the pleading tone in his voice. Please, please let me fuck myself so you can keep your goodies...
            Like a gracious king who'd been offered a small gift by a peasant, Salvador waved it off. "No. Yamilet wouldn't go for that. She wastes her time with you, but you're her blood." Salvador drummed on the table, then lurched forward. "Has the cunt talked to that cocksucker Marrero yet?"
            Miguel blinked quickly several times. "Maybe. I was arrested four days ago, so I guess they had time."
            "No guesses! Have they talked or not?" Miguel shook his head and Salvador whipped out his cell phone. His steel-gray hair clipped for $80 a pop was mussed up, his narrow shoulders and creased face mottled from anger. "Hello? Emilio? Check Cordero's case file and see if she's talked to Captain Luis Marrero." Pause. "I know that! How much you want?" He listened, his face darkening. "Fine! Fine! Just get me an answer." Another pause. "Yes! Right now! I'll hold."
            Covering the mike, Salvador whispered "Some friends are only with you for the fucking money. Pendejo."
            Miguel thought the insult may have included him as well. Salvador spoke on the phone. "No? Are you sure? No deposition?" Pause. "Yeah, I know about the case report. I got a copy. Saved myself a few thousand there, huh?" said Salvador nastily. "Yeah, I got your payment. Tonight." He looked at his watch: 10:26 p.m. Back on the phone. "Okay. You're covered. One more thing. You always work this late?"
            Rapid-fire speech crackled back, almost loud enough for Miguel to understand. Slowly, the color drained from Salvador's face. For the first time in four days, Miguel cheered up. "Uh-huh. Bye," said Salvador as he clicked the phone off, then stared at the table.
            Miguel waited as long as he dared. "What?"
            Without raising his head, Salvador said "Emilio was called in to help the F.B.I. They took an interest in your case." Miguel felt a cold slash through his gut. It made him nauseous.
            "Fuck," said Salvador, "this is going to cost me money."

Monday, August 8, 2011


I really didn't discover music until I was in college, a combination of being very young (I was a junior at 18) and simple lack of interest. Then it flowed over me like a wave and I wanted to learn about almost all of it. My Saturday nights were zephyrs rather than whirlwinds and here's what filled those I spent peacefully alone.

"Sentimental Journey"

It was on Saturday nights, from 6 to 8 PM, then later the schedule was from 7 to 10. The theme song, a flowing instrumental arrangement of the Les Brown/Doris Day hit that evoked such memories for the wartime generation, would swell into the room with ballroom elegance. A Memphis DJ with a scratchy mellow voice would present songs of the 40s and 50s with a little story for each. However, each story seemed to have an aimless quality, like the ramblings of a garrulous old man.

There were occasional bits of gold: How Doris Day went from dancer to singer because of a broken leg; how Johnny Mathis transformed himself from failed jazz singer to superstar; how Frank Sinatra went from superstar to seedy club singer and back to superstar again; why Johnny Ray cried so often; where Frankie Laine sang an entire concert to exactly 3 people; how Columbia records had two “Italian” singers under contract at the same time and chose to push one named Sinatra over one named Perry Como; the song a wandering hobo gave Nat “King” Cole that went on to sell over two million records; how the recording ban actually propelled The Mills Brothers to national fame; that Glenn Miller knew he was going to die and got on the plane anyway and how little-known Jerry Vale made it big in Vegas.

That last story made several appearances, as did Jerry Vale, for he was a close personal friend of the DJ. (If I remembered his name I would use it, natch.) Jerry would act all gangster-cool, dropping names like his life depended on it and refusing to talk about any aspect of his life except singing.

Vale hit it big with “Eternally” (which he co-wrote with Engelbert Humperdinck!) and at about that time, the DJ and he became good friends. They bantered well and showed a good friendship, but the shows with Vale felt awkward nevertheless. When he wasn’t around, the music took center stage and on those nights, time melted.

There is a poignancy and innocence to the music of that era that appeals to me. The lyrics feel like poetry even when the words are simple and unadorned. The recordings hissed and popped slightly, but the voices came through with such clarity, style and charm, reminding you of a time before studio engineering transformed the true talent and beauty of a live recording done superbly into an artificial construct.

One could marvel at the power and emotion of a very young Tony Bennett, the easy-going baritone of Vic Damone, the cool flair of Ella Fitzgerald, the unbelievable charm of Buddy Clark (who died in a plane crash on Beverly Boulevard, in Beverly Hills), the deep emotion of Eddie Fisher and the homespun charm of Patti Page.

I discovered singers, songs and the joys of music that resonates with your heart. The show framed my nights with rare comfort. If I was alone, solitude gained the depth of emotions far outside my own. If Carol was there, it was a chance for discovery and conversation, as songs opened hidden doors inside of me that I often didn’t know were closed.

I never heard the show with anyone else, nor did I actively try to catch it every week. In that sense, it was like a close friend: there for me when needed, able to proceed alone knowing I would return. My journey into music has expanded far beyond what “Sentimental Journey” offered, but despite so many joys along the way, it has never been as satisfying as those Saturday nights, when the music fulfilled me and the world felt right.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


I wrote this story within minutes of completing another, totally-unrelated story. As I closed the file on the first story, the images of this story flashed in my mind and I started writing, knowing I had only about 20 minutes to wrap it up. (I never stop writing flash fiction pieces in order to complete them later.) I barely finished in time, though I can't remember now what it was that I had pending then. From "Thirty More Stories."


            “You must be completely insane to think we can win a war against them!”
            Nolan of Bergen blinked. “You must be completely insane to think we have a choice.”
            The burly arms of Kanden of Varth thrust out, partly in anger, and partly, the kafeth saw, in despair. “They number six, seven thousand units. We barely amount to 200. We cannot win!”
            The kafeth stirred, a low rumble running through the cave’s dark niches. Nolan turned to trace the stirrings, letting his rival’s words sink in. With a mild shrug, he spoke softly. “You say we cannot win. I say we have no choice but to win. Your way means we run until we are hunted down in whatever hole we hide in. My way means we fight to stay alive.” He stopped Kanden by raising his voice. “And we keep hoping a solution appears to end the war in our favor.”
            Kanden snarled. “And what if no solution appears? What then?”
            Nolan let the stirrings die down. “And what if one does?”

            Long past the final debate’s end, the kafeth was already planning. Split into eight saskereth of roughly 25 members each, the groups had plunged deeper into the caves to discuss their plans to defeat the enemy, or plan a way to survive. Lalery of Conat slipped quietly next to Nolan and leaned close. “Did you arrange Kanden’s group?”
            Nolan smiled. “No. He did it himself, with his words and fears.”
            Lalery pulled her long hair back under the furred hood of her heavy parank. “You know his saskereth left the cave? And they took most of the dried food and water skins.”
            Ureg of Bergen squatted next to Nolan. “He knows, Lalery. The foodsacks they took were full of bark and straw. And as for the water skins, they are full of piss.”
            Lalery’s mouth dropped open as Nolan shared a laugh with kinsman Ureg. The first action to end the war had begun...but not against the true enemy.

            Two of the remaining seven groups were destroyed in the cave-riddled mountains, the strongholds they thought they’d built becoming death traps as the Mecataks sliced rocks to make their kills. Nolan told Lalery that at least three groups needed to survive, to avoid inbreeding creating a much weaker race. Ureg’s group became the third saskareth destroyed when the Mecataks ringed the deep havenath forest of the north. But Nolan’s deep howls of mourning were touched by tones of pride because Ugen’s dormant volcano trap had taken almost 3,000 enemy to a hellish end. Four saskereth left, barely 100 and nearly 2,000 Mecataks remained on the world. Nolan knew the war was near its end, needing but one final action to settle Fate.

            A captured Mecatak artifact lay next to an odd array of metal panels and mirrors. With trembling fingers, Nolan flicked the equipment “on” and raced, chest thudding, across the clearing knowing that the attack would come in mere seconds. The first blast landed behind him and he ran in terror, across grass and onto rocks, scrambling as he moaned in fear of death. Another blast tossed him amidst rubble, his chest broken and thus he saw the end of the war. Suddenly the Mecataks above turned to form a circle, landed and mistakenly blasted each other as enemies with actinic rays that sizzled air and earth. In a minute, the remains of more than 600 machines littered the Juvenar Plain. And Nolan smiled into the darkness that blanketed him.

            “Sir. Over 750 Mecataks were destroyed. We’re down to 1,154. Planet still shows active indigenous life in several quarters.”
            Commodore Langley cursed silently. “Recall the Mecs, Ensign. This planet ain’t worth it. On to the next one and let‘s make it happen, okay?” While I still have a command, he thought.

Monday, August 1, 2011


My first blog was titled "GCSPrank Is Here" and it relates to my college years and beyond in Mississippi and other places. After the first two posts, I made a list of 148 topics I would write about, delighting in the creation of vignettes that were still vivid in my mind. But somewhere around 96, I realized I didn't want to write the rest (except one). It is said that writers first write about themselves, and when they get that out of their system, then they write better. I guess that applies here, as I broadened my blogging after that. And 5 years later, I finally wrote that last GCSPrank Is Here post. Took me that long to deal with it.

Eudora, Elvis and Faulkner

They are names that resonate with a power that transcends even the basest elements associated with the Magnolia State. One wrote fiction that defied belief and acted in ways that fostered disbelief. Another was a slick-haired rebel, sneering and sneered at for his pelvic "obscenities." And the third grew slowly on the consciousness of the country, a lady far above and beyond the belles.

You couldn’t squat in Oxford for more than a day without encountering some mention of William Faulkner. And yet, it wouldn’t take you another day to realize that while the town and university played him up for benefit, they not-so-secretly looked down upon him…and not because “Billy” was height-challenged.

Faulkner was not one to go through life rounding off his sharp edges. He once upbraided his daughter, who hassled him about his drinking, with “No one remembers Shakespeare’s daughter!” A drunkard of epic proportions in a land that considers drunkenness a weekly rite (and right), Faulkner skewered his surroundings and its people with bone-slashing observations that, couched in mellifluous and overwrought sentences, dared to reveal more than they concealed.

His words adorned the Ole Miss Library; the Yoknapatawpha Conference was an international hit and his home was a tourist attraction. And yet, you got the feeling that if Faulkner vanished from memory, the collective sigh of relief would have drowned the tinkle of steady money.

Elvis was born in Tupelo and that’s as much of Mississippi as he or anyone else cared about. The Great State, as so many laughingly call themselves, had little to do with his eventual power as a cultural icon. That Elvis strode the earth like a giant, almost single-handedly remade American society and gave us an iconoclastic 20th century Greek tragedy of a life is hard to ignore.

Mississippians don’t ignore it. They talk around Elvis, close to Elvis, make references to Elvis and sometimes even talk through Elvis, but in the end, they pointedly downplay Elvis. Until that moment—and it always comes—when they drawl with ill-conceived and badly-misplaced hubris: “You know, he was born in Tupelo.”

Eudora Welty is not a Nobel Prize winner nor is she an American icon. She was a writer, one of the great ones from a land that produces writers like royal families produce inbred feebs. Her prose was—is—clean and simple, with consistent flashes of insight and charm. She wrote for decades, her works defined by both quantity and quality and the ability to blend in with, not shake up, society.

She was gracious where Faulkner was abrasive; real where Elvis was fantasy. Eudora Welty was never as famous as the other two, but she was easily the more admirable, the friendly one who never soured her name or that of others, who cherished herself to a long and worthy life. She scaled no great heights, but she never descended from her scaled steps.

I heard too much about Faulkner there in his hometown and wished I’d heard less about Elvis. But not once did I hear a word about Eudora Welty. If the good die young around the world, the good die unremarked in Mississippi.

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