Hamster wheels and enemies of the state (of mind)

Was over on Facebook (come be my friend!) and changed the “What are you doing feature” to “ThomG is pondering why he is his own worst enemy.”

The Queen said it first. And she went on to tell me the little hamsters in my head keep churning around on their wheels. And that I shouldn’t listen to the creaky rotations. Nice try, but it gets late, you’re on the verge of sleep and you start thinking of what you’ve just done over the last 60 days.
And the wheels spin.

Truth is, I am homesick for certain aspects of my former life. And I am conflicted, since I very much appreciate the opportunities that await me on the Great Plains.
Creak. Creak. Creak.

Patience has never been a virtue. But as I’ve aged, I’ve been able to incorporate it into my life.
Thing is, I was safe and secure and staid for 11 years. Until one day while you keep listen to the voice that says “keep your arms and head in the ride at all times and don’t make any sudden movements for your personal safety and security” and you do something like move 1,700 miles to a place where you personally know all of two people.
And start completely over.
I like the blank canvas. I like that I’ve started to add color from a plentiful palette.
But the night comes, that time before sleep when my mind tends to race over events of the day, events of my life, and I worry that change isn’t happening fast enough.
When it certainly is. Sixty days. I quit one job, sold my shit, hit the road, started a new job in a new city and jumped right in.
The slack I keep cutting myself is lacking.

(I hope this wasn’t tedious for any specific reader of The Tension.)

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are gamble, omitted and temporary.
And in honor of Six Sentences – what can you say in six? – here’s a six-sentence story.

Homestead
It could have started as an outhouse, for all he knew – or cared; the shed had that old-timey construction where temporary meant to last 100 years of punishment on the prairie.
He’d taken it apart, carefully numbered the planks, noted where the square-head nails went, omitted the rusted tin roof, loaded it onto a wagon and pulled it to his little half-acre in the hills.
And thus began the modification from shed to living space.
He dug down into the rich, dark soil until he hit clay; he dug rooms, a root cellar and lined the dirt walls with straw bales and tossed the floor with tiny river cobble that made a satisfying crunch wherever he walked.
He reconstructed the shed over the pit (complete with new, galvanized tin) as a way of egress/ingress and maybe for esthetics, for all he knew; but it gave what he’d constructed below the surface a name – house, structure, home.
The whole enterprise was a gamble, he knew; winter would be tough here, but the salvation of his ravaged soul made all the sacrifice – the unending, wind-blown solitude – worth the day he’d got up from his corner office, ripped off the silk tie and walked the 1,600 miles to this grassy knoll.

And introducing Lenny, as himself

I was in the aisles at PetSmart with Trin to pick up a bag of chow, when she got to an encap and stuck her nose into the little blue-tinged (sad) containers of beta fighting fish.
And that’s how it came to be that I adopted Vladimir “Lenny” Lenin.
(I cannot speak to his Communist leanings, but he is originally from Cambodia and/or Thailand.)
He looks tough (yet cool) and eats frozen bloodworms.
Granted, he’s probably not going to get into the kind of shenanigans that the girls get into (thankfully).
But I think he adds something to the place. He might even tie the room together.

HellRide 5 - Kelly's in!

Thanks to Kelly Baker's spectacular grassroots canvasing for votes, the recovering elementary school teacher from Redding will ride HellRide 5 in Downieville, Calif. Friday through Sunday.
The race is sponsored by Santa Cruz bikes.
Contestants - four men and four women - will ride at least 70 miles in Downieville, probably up the gnarliest downhill mountain bike course in the West. And the contestants have to do it alone, no support crew, on 30-plus-pound single-speed mountain bikes. And they'll be chased by pros Mark Weir and Rachel Lloyd. Get caught and you're out.
“This is seriously cool,” said Baker.
For more on HellRide 5, go here.

Sunday Scribblings: Solace

I wrote this in 2006, after my dad was hurt in a car accident. I hope it gives you, dear reader, the extent of my love of the outdoors. My place of solace.

I'm lousy at hypotheticals.
You know, having to ponder questions like "What would you do if you had a million dollars?"
I'm unlikely to ever have a cool million and thus cannot fathom what it would be like to be flush with so much disposable income. Hypothetical situations have just too many variables.
Real-life situations are, I don't know, tangible. You are forced to deal with things, whether you like it or not.
We had just pulled into Etna, when my buddy's cell phone came to life. It was my ex-wife, frantic that I get in touch with First Sister, who lives in Iowa.
My 77-year-old father had been in a serious accident.
He'd been run over by a car.
Notice I didn't say hit by a car. From what dad's been able to tell us - he's doing great, is in good spirits and took his first spin around his bed in a walker on Wednesday - he was out grocery shopping, and as he walked back to his car, he was allegedly struck by an older gentleman who was pulling into the open parking space dad was occupying.
Dad said the man then backed the car over him, pinning him to the asphalt.
"They admitted him in critical condition," First Sister said over the static on the cell. "From what I can tell, that's just a precaution because of his age. They also put a breathing tube in, to help him breathe. They think he may have a punctured lung, a broken ankle and a broken wrist (he later had to have his foot amputated).
I was a few hours away from entering the Russian Wilderness Area for an annual backpacking trip with the boys. Out of contact. In the middle of nowhere.
So, what did I do?
I strapped my pack to my back, and walked into the woods.
After careful consideration - and another telephone call with First Sister - I sought relief in granite, pine and trout.
Dad had a broken ankle, a bruised lung and was basically one big, human contusion (a bruise in the form of a tire track has appeared on his backside). But he was alive - and continues to show remarkable recovery skills.
"There's really nothing you can do here," she said. "Go have a good time, and try not to worry."
So, how do you find joy in a situation that's fraught with sorrow? The outdoors , for me, is that perfect outlet. Not a place of escape, but one of renewal. It was in a conversation with a buddy, while fishing, that gave clarity to the moment.
"Not everyone can fathom this, just being out here," he said. "I'm so happy that you understand it."
When I got home, I gave my dad a call.
"I'm doing OK, considering," he said, recounting the accident for me. "I kept telling them, 'Get this goddamn car off me, it's heavy.' That damn car was on me for five minutes."
"What kind of car was it?" I asked.
"How the hell should I know?" he said. "It was on top of me."
Good point. Stupid question. And dad, thankfully, remains feisty as ever.
The car was a 2001 Buick Century, according to the police report. The 2001 Century weighs 3,371 pounds, I looked it up. It also has a ground clearance of 5.7 inches - roughly the length of a Bic ballpoint pen.
Dad is a considerably thicker man than that. It is by the grace of God that he's still here. But he is a man of considerable, unshakable faith (and one tough hombre).
And real life does what the hypothetical just cannot do - point out the obvious richness and color of our daily lives. What it means to be human, to care, to create. To love.
Soon, it'll be my pleasure to fly home to Nebraska and do what I can for the man who taught me how to fish, how to embrace the natural world and to never let it go. He's also the one who has steadfastly reminded me that life isn't fair - and was good enough to smack me in the head hard enough 12 years ago to get back into journalism. A move that led to Redding, and now to the plains of South Dakota (in a move that has brought me closer to my entire family).
Real life is gritty. It isn't fair. But it is an amazingly interesting journey. And being outdoors, this is what gives my life clarity.

A sunny Saturday in Sioux Falls

The guy slides up to the concrete bar top with a hefty slice of red velvet cake with butter crème icing.
His wife looks at him with an eyebrow raised.
It’s 8:30 a.m.
“That looks like a nutritious breakfast,” she says.
“Yep, that’s what the guy at the register said. Once I get my coffee, I’m going to go out and have a smoke. Then, breakfast will be complete.”
“You know, he just got back from the doctor,” she says. “Tells him he’s in great shape. Eats what he wants, smokes two packs a day. I hate him.”
He smiles at me, his jaws happily masticating the velvet cake.
My trek to the farmer’s market completed (sweet corn, tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, carrots, cucumbers and a giant bunch of sunflowers and dahlias), I headed over the Queen City Bakery for a quiche and a cup of chai latte. It’s a small place in a former warehouse next to the BNSF tracks. Everything is made with lots of butter.
Living in a city with a emerged downtown has its perks.

Living in a community where you have a relative with a truck, even better.

“You buy furniture. You tell yourself, this is the last sofa I will ever need in my life. Buy the sofa, then for a couple years you're satisfied that no matter what goes wrong, at least you've got your sofa issue handled. Then the right set of dishes. Then the perfect bed. The drapes. The rug. Then you're trapped in your lovely nest, and the things you used to own, now they own you.”
- Chuck Palahniuk, "Fight Club"

OK, I didn’t go that far. But I did buy a couch. A leather sectional. With my winnings from the Outdoor Writers.
It doesn’t own me.
But it might define me, as a person (with some style, at least).
I dunno.
See for yourself, my living room, complete:

A taste for meat, with cheese (and egg)

All hail the meaty goodness of a little downtown place in The Queen City called Hamburger Inn.
It's near the muni bus depot, on an alley and is long and lean. One slender, white-Formica-topped counter with a dozen chrome swivel stools; two refrigerators (can pop only); a two-basket fryer; and a well-seasoned flat grill that's like three feet wide.
The owner/cook has faded tats up and down his arms. When he turns, his hips nearly bump the counter, the grill. He drops some cheese. He yells "FUCK!"
And turns to the counter with a pen and an order pad. Nobody raises an eyebrow.
"What'llya have?"
I went double cheeseburger, with a friend egg on top, fries, Coke.
"Gimme the bacon cheeseburger, with egg, and what are SW Taters, are they like tater tots?" a compatriot says.
"Yeah, like tater tots, but they've got little flecks of jalapeno and cheese in 'em."
"Oh, I'll have an order of those."
He takes balls of ground beef - the size of billiard balls - out of a Ziploc bag, five in all to feed the three of us, and tosses them on the grill. The sizzle is immediate.
"One thing about coming here, everyone knows it," my buddy says. " 'Go to Hamburger Inn for lunch?' Yeah. The smell stays with you."
The owner flattens the patties on the grill, sending steam and fat sizzling. The patties cook slow. Eggs get cracked. Fries and tots go into the oil.
The burger is served on a single white bleached paper plate, the kind that are sold in a package of 100 for $1.29. A side of pickle chips (you can get your pickles fried, too). Ketchup and mustard in plastic, color-specific squeeze bottles.
You have to ask for tomato and lettuce.
I decline the salad. I just want meat, cheese, chicken embryo.
My double cheese with egg is a good 5 inches tall.
It is juicy.
It is wonderful.
And I find myself fortified for the rest of the day.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at 3WW are avoid, class and sticky. This, I suppose, would be the prequel to last week’s 3WW. Let’s stay in Fiction in 58 mode, shall we?

Embolden

She melted into wallpaper patterns. Her father termed it avoidance disorder.
She belonged to a class that didn’t rely on hamburger boxed meals. The move to the Biltmore caused consternation. She found comfort in cracked plaster, his movements. The boy in 3D. She was fascinated by his economy.
She chose sticky rice and Szechuan Duck as an introduction.

Simply, The Hold Steady

Far be it from me to tread on the territory of Uncle E and his Musical Nightmares, but CDs this good don't come around all the time.

No, not the new Coldplay CD (of course, if someone wants to send it to me for a listen, I'm ears).

No, I'm talking about The Hold Steady's "Stay Positive." It's been on constant rotation since I downloaded it from iTunes. My opinion? Best album release of the year (but that's so subjective that I will clarify that it's the best release I've heard, downloaded, researched).

Craig Finn's voice takes some getting used to, but the man can paint a scene with his lyrics.
In an early interview with The Guardian, Finn said this about The Doors "L.A. Woman:" "The music meanders, and Morrison was more like a drunk asshole than an intelligent poet. The worst of the worst is the last song, Riders on the Storm: 'There's a killer on the road/ His brain is squirming like a toad' - that's surely the worst line in rock 'n' roll history. He gave the green light to generations of pseuds."

Ballsy.

But check out these gems from "Stay Positive:"

"It started when we were dancin’
It got heavy when we got to the bathroom.
We didn’t go back to her place,
We went to some place where she cat-sits.
She said, “I know I look tired, but everything’s fried, here in Memphis.”
- "Sequestered in Memphis

"She says sometimes she sees these things
right before they're happening
hail Mary full of grace
some nights she swears she feels her face
she's known a couple boys that died
and two of them were crucified
and the last one had enlightened eyes
but the first guy he was Jesus Christ
hey Judas - i know you made a grave mistake
hey Peter - you've been pretty sweet since easter break
now she's four a.m. and she's wide awake."
- Both Crosses

"Raise a toast to St. Joe Strummer
I think he might’ve been our only decent teacher
Getting older makes it harder to remember…we are our only saviors
We’re gonna build something, this summer."

- "Constructive Summer"

Sunday Scribblings: Ghost

I guess you could call this transgressive.

The Ghosts of Corporate Future

Everyone thought it strange that strange that Mickelson would actually admit to having an imaginary friend.
“It’s a spirit guide,” he’d explain, as calm as a Catholic priest on Sunday morning.
Mickelson, you see, is in his-30s. And he was our manager.
It was unnerving to be in a strategy meeting, when he’d turn and confirm something with someone - something - over his right shoulder. You’d stop talking. He’d stop talking. And there’d be this awkward, uncomfortable silence until he thrust out both hands and said, “Go on.”
Then he’d nod, and you could never really tell if he was nodding at you, or Casper, his imaginary, friendly ghost.
Thing about it is, the guy’s always right on the pulse of what the company needs. Fucking charmed. He just made VP of development.
And he’s on his way to being offered a partnership. The brownstone uptown. A driver. Tailored clothing, model girlfriend, no waiting weeks for a reservation at Masa.
I had to ask.
Mickelson and I interned at the same time, got hired at the same time. Spent time playing squash and bitching about the managers that came before us. Him.
I’m stuck in sales, with unreasonable numbers, an impossibly small flat, no girlfriend and a sinking resignation that I’d have to return to West Virginia and live with my parents.
“Say look man, how did you come to find yourself with a ‘spirit guide' anyway?”
He smiled, hefted his Zero Halliburton attaché in gunmetal gray onto his desk. He popped it open and took out a thick, red-leather-covered contract, uncapped his Montblanc Starwalker Doue’ fountain pen and placed it on the leather cover.
“Tell me, Rayburn, have you ever considered doing a real value assessment of your soul?”

All things Midwestern

There are items that never seem to go out of style (or demand) in the Midwest:

The bobblehead chihuahua that bobbles at you from the back window of an older woman's Buick Century; sometimes, the woman will have a pack of dogs parked on a little towel, all their little heads rocking with her constant braking to stay under 20 mph...
...in the fast lane.

Sidewalk chalk. On a walk, you can tell the houses with children. The sidewalks are a Jackson Pollock masterpiece of colorful, squiggly lines.

The Palmer Candy Co.'s Twin Bing. It's a regional candy bar made in Sioux City, Iowa. It's ground peanuts in chocolate that covers a cherry nougat center. Two little mounds of goodness - yes, it looks a little suspect - in the Twin Bing (you get three in a King Bing bar). I hadn't had one in forever.
After an Indian lunch buffet, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. I was chasing a big story out of Canada and knew I needed a good dose of sugar. The paper's vending machines didn't disappoint. It's probably an acquired taste, what with the cherry center, but trust me. There's just something about them. Satisfying. We used to put them in the freezer when we were kids.

Soon, I'll venture down to the basement for another Midwest classic - the Pearson's Salted Nut Roll.

And that's the comfort of coming back - things you never knew you missed, or missed seeing.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at 3WW are history, narrow and spent. I hereby throw a challenge to TheRobRogers to finally hop on the bandwagon and try 3WW.

And now, a Fiction in 58 for our reading pleasure.

A Little Nudge

He had a history of narrow focus.
The world would spin around him and he couldn’t see the kaleidoscope.
He spent his time in a cocoon. Insulated, clean, organized.
She moved into the apartment across the hall.
He began to watch for her in the peep hole.
Tonight, she knocked. She carried Chinese take-out.
His throat went dry.

The Musueum of Me

First light streams through the little rectangular window and into my crusty eyes; there's that moment of confusion, where my mind fires, asks where the hell am I?
I'm in the bed I slept in through high school.
The window? My brother, who had this basement room before me, made a shade out of cardboard and a wood-slat blind, to keep the eastern sun out. Maximum darkness.
I kept it.
It's still in the corner. Someone's taken it down, to let a little light shine in.
I stretch and look around. I lie back, put my hands behind my head, hear the sounds of my dad in his bedroom, just over my head. I hear and recognize pops, squeaks and groans the house I grew up in makes.
Went back to Nebraska for the weekend - the drive is just over two hours - and it had a different vibe. Not so much like a museum tour or an archaeology dig, but different somehow. Everything felt compressed, smaller.
I fingered art pieces, favorite books - my nannie, a scrap of my first blanket - yellowed pads of drawing paper where I'd sketched things.
Some items I couldn't find, like a book of poetry I self "published" in junior high, architectual drawings of my dream home I drew in high school, other cherished mementos of my life. I'll find them at some point. Not much has been lost to the ideology of purge.
And there's comfort in that.
KNowing I can always go home to rummage in the museum of me. Where I actually get to touch and feel the exhibits.

Sunday Scribblings: My Oldest Friend

Prisoners
We became spit brothers first, undersized third-graders on the playground who found strength in the number two.
The blood brother thing, that came a day or two later.
When I get stressed, I often find myself fingering the ragged, two-inch scar on my palm. The one that started out as a single poke with a penknife to draw a few beads of blood.
I realize – now – the kinds of funk third-grade boys carry on their person, but who could have known that Tod and I would get some sort of staph infection from mixing our blood in an oath of loyalty to the very end.
Both our palms look like a river valley, shot from space.
Mine itches when I get anxious.
I get anxious a lot.
I’m supposed to be brilliant, just you know. In a Time magazine cover way.
I’m a geneticist. I was the one who isolated the enzyme on bad T cells.
And with it, I may have found a cure for Type 1 diabetes.
It’s hard to know what Tod feels, or thinks.
He’s still in Pelican Bay, a "supermax" prison with a razor-wire view of the California coast.
He vows he won’t talk to anyone, accept anyone’s visits until he gets out, walks free. He said going in that he didn’t want anyone to see him like this. He didn’t want to feel the embarrassment, the eyes that kept asking why.
The sentence is life.
He took the rap.
For one night of indiscretion.
My imprudence.

Squawk boxes

Overheard while walking the dogs:

Teen girl on a bike (No. 1): “I don’t like Brittany. And I don’t like her bird.”
Teen girl on bike (No. 2): “I know. She’s mean. And that bird just squawks!”
(No. 1): “Not like my bird.”
(No. 2): “Oh, no way, you’re bird is soooo way cool.”

Institutionalized

Old habits, the old way of doing things, are hard to kill off. It’s like I’ve been institutionalized by the man, and I can’t seem to cut it on the outside.
Had one of those, “Hey, let’s drink the grape Kool-Aid” days Wednesday. Or I thought I did.
Twelve hours later and I’m still a bit fuzzy on the whole issue.

Having time to work on one story (with four short sidebars) for Sunday (and being left alone to do it) has me completely wigged that I’m not pulling my weight. My last two stories ran on Monday. Are they looking? And they questioning where the time goes?
No, they’re not.
They’re monitoring my progress – but not hovering. And they’re helping to focus the issues. They’re making suggestions.
I’ve not had competent editing like this in 10 years. And by competent, I mean an honest give-and-take.
All of this newness has me now so worked up that I worry that the Sunday piece will suck Oscar Meyer wieners.

Writers. We’re a neurotic lot.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at Three Word Wednesday are inappropriate, order and shortcut.

Future Battlefields

The order was given: Advance on enemy positions, terminate with extreme prejudice.
Up and down the line, sweat clings to the liners of our VR1A tactical receiver/helmets.
Or the memory of sweat. Or heat, or sound, sensations for that matter.
Battles were now waged in pod simulators, soldiers wired for war while floating in an embiotic goo we nicknamed spooge.
As inappropriate had been to send a nation’s youth into battle with bullets and tanks and rocket-propelled grenades, this new shortcut was just as deadly.
A KIA here means a lethal does of nerve agent. Probability and statistics, really. You’re number up when the computer selected your 18-diget induction number.
Of course they’re be the obligatory email home, your ashes wrapped in a flag, credits deposited into the accounts of your next-of-kin.

An inspired Fiction in 58

The following was inspired by this sign, as well as comments made by a fundamentalist Christian on the radio (hey, I was trying to find the local pubic radio jazz station Monday and ended up listening to this dude's ravings) that Jesus doesn't save the souls of those who kill themselves. I find that kinda harsh.
And yes, I've been a visitor to that kind of darkness.
But offing yourself solves nothing (and makes a terrible mess).

Anyway, this is what formed in my head this a.m. while walking the dogs. First whirl through, it came in at 55 words when I stopped to write it down. Three extra words. Glorious.

Stopped-motion
There is forward motion. There is standing still.
I was never one to lie too still. Climber, they said. Going places.
Yeah, I went places. Dark corners where light doesn’t penetrate.
It got old.
I got old.
Now I sit, motionless, alone. In a vast field of flowers. Dead, scorched brown.
The ragged hole in my temple smolders.

Midwesterners have an accent?

There are these times when it feels like I’m living immersed in dialogue from “Fargo.”
Went to Falls Park Sunday to cover “Shakespearience!” the local theatre company’s free annual presentation of The Bard. Since the park has a visitor center, I figured I’d pick up a map of South Dakota to hang on my desk.
Two older women were working, quietly folding T-shirts while people streamed in and detoured right to the observation tower.
“Hi, I’m new to South Dakota and was wondering if you had a state map I could have.”
(In a Frances McDormand Fargo accent) “Oh good heavens, well you don’t say,” one woman said. “Where you coming from, then?”
“California. But I grew up in Nebraska.”
(In the same Frances McDormand Fargo accent) “Oh, well good for you, hon,” the other woman said. “That’s a good move, there. We’re glad to have you back.”
“Oh yah.”
“So whatta do for a living then, hon?”
“Reporter. I’m here covering Shakespeare in the park.”
“You don’t say? Are you a feature writer then?”
“Environment.”
“Oh my goodness, isn’t that nice Linda?”
“That sure is, yah.”
“Well, I’ve got to get to the mill.”
“Well, you have yourself a good night. And we’ll be watching for your byline tomorrow, won’t we Linda?”
“Oh, yah.”
“Yah.”

And I’m sure its exactly what they both did with today’s paper.

Sunday Scribblings: Chance Encounter

Too dark?

The Donnelly Plan

Donnelly from legal sat at the bar, his lips wrapped around a domestic bottle of beer, his Adam’s apple coxing the suds down his throat.
He eyes me, a sideways glance, turns, kicks open the stool next to him.
“Say, man, pull up a seat and I’ll buy you a beer.”
I sit, order and take a long pull while Donnelly sizes me up. His suit is tailored, this much I know; the tie, the shoes, more than I take home in a week.
My work attire? My name is stitched on a patch sewn to the front pocket.
Several beers go by and I relax. Donnelly’s a player, corner office, rising star in the company, talk of promotion, partnership with the old man who started the business with no heir to leave it to.
We talk sports, girls, motorcycles.
The beers don’t stop; a couple of shots go down as well.
Donnelly leans in close, talks through his fingers.
“Say, man, I really screwed the pooch.”
“Which pooch?”
“A dog you might have had some difficulties with.”
“And that dog would be?”
“Face it, man, I am legal for this company. That business with Bekka Ladell?”
“Christ.”
Bekka was the company’s riser – and serious self-promoter – in marketing. Young, gorgeous – dangerous.
I’d stayed late to swap out flickering fluorescents on a Friday afternoon – past the hours when marketing opened its break room refrigerator for drinks.
Bekka started the conversation.
It ended with a harassment complaint the following Monday.
“Hey, I’m not asking if you did it or not, not my thing, especially in this less-than-official ambience,” he said. “I’m just saying, ‘cause I know the shit she can cause.”
The rumors were true. Something was up between them.
“Look, I need a favor. She’s got cards, emails, a few sweet nothings. And I need them back. I just need you to keep an eye out. I’m in-and-out of her place and that’s it.”
“No. Fucking. Way.”
“Do this and I swear, that complaint goes away. Tomorrow.”
I sigh, drain my beer, get up.
“Let’s get this over with, now.”
“You know she moved in my building?” he said as we cross midtown. “Less entanglements, she said. Less people have to talk about at work. Convenience, she said.”
We take the elevator to Donnelly’s floor, back-track five floors down the stairwell.
“Just stand by the elevator, watch that nobody goes to her door. I’ll be quick. Don’t worry.”
“And if someone comes?”
“My mobile is 555-286-7391. Relax.”
I lower myself into a chair, pick up a well-thumbed celebrity rag.
Donnelly’s head appears between a crack in the door. He’s wearing this grin.
“Dude, you have to see this.”
My shoulders hunch. I get up and slide into the room. Candles are lit on most every surface, wax drips onto the expensive furniture, the expensive carpet.
Bekka’s curled in the couch, her dead eyes wide in terror.
“That is what happens when you don’t question your supplier,” he said. “ ‘Get me some ‘shrooms, she said. I want to get high this weekend.’ I didn’t have the heart to tell her that these little babies were Amanita phalloides, the Deathcap mushroom.
“Looks like she took waaaay more than the recommended daily allowance.”
Donnelly tosses me the half-filled bag of mushrooms, the key to Bekka’s place.
And pulls a beat-up .38 from his suit jacket. He points it at my chest.
He’s wearing latex gloves.
“The fuck?”
Now, Stephen, you really didn’t think I’d leave an accomplice did you?” he smiled. “Now, eat the rest of those ‘shrooms, so I don’t have to make this look like a murder-suicide.”

Haiku on my mind

Woke up early Saturday with a list of things to accomplish, and I haiku on my lips.
(Hey, it's how I roll.)

Awake with the dawn,
horizons, infinite, call,
‘make every day count’

Also, many have asked for photographic evidence of a life in the Midwest. Not that I've got the Internets at home again (bless), I promise to start snapping.

So let's talk about work, shall we?

My editor declared the honeymoon over at 5:41 p.m. Tuesday.
"Man, we've thrown you under the bus, but good," he said. "Hope you don't mind."
I didn't. In fact, I asked for it. Anything I could do to help out, while I got a desk in order, learned a new computer system (one of many along the way), and learned to wander my way around newsroom protocols and around my new hometown (had lunch at a real Vietnamese place for a excellent bowl of Pho and a coffee).
So they put me to work.
(Starting a new job, in a new town, during a shortened holiday week is just plain stupid.)
I have had no complaints.
And I will not. Because at this new place, dialogue happens. Not from the top down, but from all sides. Honest questions that do not get a blank stare and silence, but honest answers.
Refreshing.

OK, so let's talk about my work life. For the one and only time forward on The Tension.
(It's a part of me that I'd like to keep private.)

Back when I was a child, people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said "reporter." Not writer, not poet (even though I did do both at an early age), but a reporter: A writer, investigator, or presenter of news stories.
A voyeur of the human condition.
It is a calling/a trade/a way of life. reporters are never technically "off." We're bred to look at things differently, from story angles. "If I find that interesting, would others?" That's what we do.
So far, everyone from the editor down has emphasised that I need to take my time, have fun, get to know the newsroom and the community.
However, journalists are notorious perfectionists.
Do I think I did a good job this week (I started my three-day holiday weekend on Thursday, since we're a bit short-handed because of vacations and I volunteered to work on Sunday)? No.
Will I cut myself some slack? Probably not.
Because I've been doing this, or planned on doing this, most of my life.
And those are my issues to deal with.

But when a wiz-bang, boy wonder of an editor tries to tell the community that print journalism is dead, be skeptical. And very afraid.
Journalism is alive and it is well.
Because what it takes to tell good stories are good journalists who know their shit - and enough of them - to blanket a community. You cannot cover a town of 100,000 people with eight-and-one-half journalists. And to think you can make that up with freelancers and "reader-derived content" is just asking for trouble.
(And this post in no way takes a swipe at the brothers and sisters in arms I left; you guys do a helluva job in a place that looks a little more like Hell every single day.)
First off, the use of freelancers does not build the partnerships a newspaper needs to stay on top of issues.
And content from readers? Yeah, everyone thinks they can do this thing called journalism, but a few days (maybe a few weeks) and they've lost their taste for it. Journalism is hard.
And it should be left to real journalists.
My new boss has a booming voice and a resume that goes back a ways. He has worked with people I've worked with along the way (the fraternity is pretty small, when you look closely) and he moves through the newsroom engaging his reporters and editors. He calls everyone "chief." He loudly congratulated a younger reporter (the mix between old curmudgeons and cub reporters is pretty evenly split) in the newsroom - no impersonal emails - but came up and actually patted the guy on the back for a job well done.
Real journalists also make really good bosses (editors). Because they care about what we're doing for the community that we all ultimately serve.
And they care for the people who have been put under their charge.
Expect everything from your local paper. You deserve it.

Wednesday's Three Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at 3 Word Wednesday are indifferent, pour and reason. Great words, Bone.

I actually sketched an idea for a story – science fiction, no less – in the nightstand notebook last night. Will be working on that for a time. Still no Internets at the home base, and I’m still feeling my way around the new job. So be patient. I can see a calm in The Tension (I really can).

And since I haven’t done a 6S lately, here’s homage to Rob’s great writer’s site (what can you say in Six Sentences?):

A Munich Agreement
The wine he pours into the bulbous red wine glasses is weighed in her favor; about two-fingers more than he’s allowed himself.
It’s an overt appeasement, not in a Neville Chamberlain butt-kissing kinda way, but close. The bottle is old, expensive and he’s horded it for years; as he pours, he picks up the earthy aroma of oak, chocolate, ripe berries.
She walks through the kitchen just to see what he’s up to; she brushes lightly past him, like an indifferent cat.
She lifts the wine glass from the counter, brushes past him again, tip-toes from the room sly and silent.
He’ll go to her in time, he reasons, the bottle in his hand, an apology in his heart.

It's fiction, but in just 58 words

That's we I call it Fiction in 58.

Flush/Hope
The girls balance on railroad rails, and giggle as they try to touch fingertips as they pigeon-step on the polished steel as it rounds a bend.
“First one that falls off has to kiss Jeremy Saunders!”
The girl is awkward, a little plump. She slips from the rail.
Her cheeks are flush, warm; it’s the color of hope.

What, you were expecting a report on my first day on the job? Let's let the honeymoon continue before I weigh in - for the last time - on my real-life job, OK?
Besides, I don't have the Internets at my house yet, so it makes it very difficult to post. I scrounge the best I can. Thursday is the supposed blessed day of immaculate connection (cross your fingers for me, K?).