How I Ended Up in the Choir

A true story. For those not familiar with the song mentioned, here’s a link to the version we had from the Oak Ridge Boys.

How I Ended Up Singing in the Church Choir

So, how did I end up in the church choir, you ask? Not the place you’d expect to find an unabashed atheist like me. Well, I wasn’t always this secular realist. It happened like this.

            When I was 15, it was the last year I attended Vacation Bible School. The VBS is a glorified summer day care designed to spend a week ingraining Southern Baptist Christianity into defenseless children. I lived in a small community where there were only four other boys and me of similar age. Four of us were 15 and one was 14. The nearest girl to our age group was my cousin Katie, only 12, so she was in another class. Our teacher, Miss Linda, was a young mother, pretty, who we all liked. She spoke softly but we five rambunctious boys would immediately settle down to hear her. She handled us like no one else could.

            Every class had to present something at the end of the week to show what they had done. The smallest kids would show off their paintings and drawings of Noah’s Ark and Adam and Eve playing with dinosaurs. The older kids had to do harder tricks. Some would quote a Bible verse. Some classes would say the Lord’s Prayer in unison. One year I recited the books of the Old Testament. I’m not sure why that was considered a necessary skill, but I did it. It’s actually come in handy while doing crossword puzzles.

Miss Linda decided that this year we would sing a song. This was the era when Christian rock was taking off. She played for us a record that was a little rockabilly and a little gospel. It was the Oak Ridge Boys singing Jesus Is Coming Soon. We all loved it immediately. So, we got together with Miss Jean, our choir director and pianist to start working on it. After a few minutes Miss Linda was worried. All we could seem to come up with was teenage croaking. None of her boys could carry a tune. Except me. I wasn’t driving a car yet to sing along with the radio and singing in the shower wasn’t my style, so the only singing I ever did was Sunday at church. Even then, I did what all the menfolk did. I stood and swayed. I may even have mouthed the words occasionally but no actual singing. It just never occurred to me to try singing. Miss Linda and Miss Jean quickly zeroed in on me. They decided Miss Linda and I would perform a duet, with the other four boys as our backup singers. They would be the Pips to our Gladys Knight; the Four Seasons to our Frankie Valli. There was a considerable bass line for them in the chorus and croaking would be okay.

            So, performance night came, and we were ready to rock it. As I have said, it was a small church, so we had no microphone. We had to project. We were last ones up. Miss Jean played our introduction and then Miss Linda and I sang out. I quickly realized she was hanging back a bit, singing softer than usual, so I was the lead voice. It was almost like singing a solo, which would have scared the bejesus out of me. With Miss Linda’s help, the boys came in on time for the chorus. By the second verse I realized I was killing it. People were smiling, some were even swaying. My parents’ look of bewilderment had turned to pride. My boys were humming and swaying in the background, keeping up the tempo. It was going great. After the second verse, Miss Jean played a small musical interlude, giving us a lead up to the final verse. I think all five of us decided it was time to show our stuff and really rock it. I launched into the final verse and immediately detected that I was the only one singing. Miss Linda had joined the boys with their swaying and humming. I was on my own. I decided, what the heck, and gave it everything I had. My volume must have pumped my boys because they came in on the chorus like a screaming band of banshees. Still it worked. Miss Jean liked it so much she hit the notes to run the chorus twice. Not missing a beat, me and the boys brought it on home.

            Now one thing you have to understand is that Baptists are very serious about their church and their church music. Music is supposed to be godly and reverential and they never applaud in church. That is considered bad form. The most you can expect is a few fervent amens. After we had finished our rendition of Jesus Is Coming Soon, there was a kind of stunned silence for a moment. Then the whole place erupted in applause, with several shouted amens. They loved it. They loved us. It was a real showstopper, even though it was the end of the show. We all just basked like rock stars.

            After this, Miss Jean said I needed to be in the choir. Mom said I’d be honored. Apparently, I was not to be consulted on this. Still, I enjoyed the choir. We had practice on Thursday nights, and I got to sing lots of good songs. On Sundays we usually did a special song without the tired participation of the congregation. Sometimes we also did special performances in other churches. And there were often Christian rock/gospel types of songs. I found I enjoyed singing so much that I joined the school Glee Club. Anyway, that’s how I ended up in the church choir.

The Cornfield

Here’s a new story never before seen on my blog that has been published. It is in Ariel Chart Review, October 20, 2019. You can look it up if you want to. It’s free on the web. It’s easier if you google “Ariel Chart Magazine Cornfield”.

I don’t know where this story came from. Many of my stories have a background, some thing that sparks the story. If this one did, I can’t remember it. I’ve been thinking the past couple of days trying to remember what gave me the idea, and I just can’t remember anything.

Update: a reader has reminded me that I told her I got the story from a Melissa Etheridge song. It was “We Got Nowhere to Go”. I remember seeing a homoerotic music video of it on Youtube. I was touched by the hopelessness of the song and the feeling of empathy for the characters. I hoped to capture some of that in my story. Thanks, Cate.

The publication of this story was interesting also. I submitted it to Ariel Chart in September. I quickly received a message from the editor who read it that she liked it. A lot. She really wanted to publish it, but there were several changes they wanted. Without the changes they couldn’t use it. The changes were minor, so I agreed.

First, there was an overt implication that sex occurred. She asked that I take that out. I didn’t think the magazine was prudish, but what do I know. They’re Australian. So, I took it out.

Second, it didn’t have an ending that worked. It kind of just petered out. Or died. She wanted me to give it some kind of resolution. I did and it really made it a much better story.

Finally, was the length. It was somewhere under 3200 words or so. She said her managing editor would absolutely not accept anything from her over 3000 words; could I cut it back? That took a bit of work. Taking out the references to sex reduced it some, but the resolution at the end added some words back. I did a line by line edit to get it down. It’s now a very lean story. But I managed to turn it in to her at exactly 3000 words. What I’m putting here is not exactly the story that appears in Ariel Chart. I’ve added 6 more words to the last paragraph that I think gives it a nicer finish. So now, in all it’s 3006 word glory, here is The Cornfield. More to follow.

The Cornfield

            Dylan Westfield was a great guy. Everybody liked Dylan. What’s not to like? He was affable, charming, a friend to all. The girls fawned over his long, lanky frame and easy good looks. His hair shone yellow blond like newly mined gold, his blue irises had little radiating spokes of silver, making them sparkle like starlight. And his daddy being the richest man in town didn’t hurt. The girls idolized him, and the boys flocked to him.

            There were certain things everyone knew about Dylan. If you were in a jam, he’d bail you out. At the tavern he always picked up the tab. He didn’t date much, but never talked trash about the girls he went out with. And one thing everyone knew about Dylan was he hated Logan Thomas. No one knew exactly what Logan had done to draw the ire of the most popular, easiest going guy in school, but it must have been awful. If Logan even walked into the same room, Dylan’s expression would cloud. It was like shutting off the sunlight.

            Logan seemed to return the dislike tenfold. Maybe it was Dylan who had offended him. No one knew. The beginning of senior year had seen the boys thrown together in the same class and suddenly the sparks flew. The one thing everyone knew about Logan Thomas was he despised Dylan Westfield. 

***

            “Thomas!” Dylan yelled angrily. “I’m gonna kick your sorry ass back to hicktown where you came from.” School had just let out, and they were in the parking lot. Dylan and Logan were chest to chest like two bantam roosters ready to fight.

            “You and what army, you prissy little rich kid? Gonna get Daddy to fight for you?” Logan sneered. He was a couple inches shorter than Dylan’s six feet, but you had to give him credit for never backing down. Working in his father’s garage gave him the muscle to back it up. It was obvious words had been spoken before the crowd started gathering. Dylan stared at Logan with a coldness that accentuated the silver in his eyes. That iciness would make anyone shiver. Logan was red-faced with his anger. His jet-black hair was near shoulder length, almost touching the frayed edges of his denim vest with the POW and MIA patches. In his t-shirt, jeans, and ragged sneakers, he stood in stark difference to Dylan’s classic elegance. 

            “Keep your grubby hands off my car. I just had it waxed and I don’t need trailer trash like you smudging the shine. Now back off!” Several of Dylan’s larger friends loomed up beside him. Logan, realizing retreat was sometimes the better part of valor, glared at Dylan but backed away. Eventually he turned and continued through the parking lot to begin his long walk home.

            “You okay, D?” asked Big Tommy Shaw from the football team. “Me and the boys would be glad to go rough him up for you. Just say the word.”

            “No, let the little shit go. I’ve got better things to do than worry about him.”

            A girl wearing entirely too much makeup and an over the top pink cashmere sweater and wool skirt, despite the day’s heat, came gliding up to him. She laid her hand on the fender of his new sports car.

            “Ooh, I love red cars,” she purred. “Give a girl a lift home?”

            “Marlee, you live two blocks from here.” There was only a little exasperation in his voice. “But hop in.”

            The school took up two entire city blocks of town. Dylan jack rabbited his roadster along each of the four boundary streets, circling the school, working through the gears, trying to get up to fourth before slamming on the brakes for the next stop sign. Marlee squealed her pleasure, eyes agleam at being in Dylan’s car and at being with Dylan.  With the top down, they gloried in the cool wind and afternoon sun.  He took a circuitous route through town, finally ending up in Marlee’s driveway. He turned off the car, and they sat for a minute listening to the ticking of the cooling engine. Marlee pushed her lower lip out in a pout.

            “How come you haven’t asked me to Harvest Fest yet?” He figured that was coming. Truth be told, he didn’t want to go to Harvest Fest, or anywhere, with Marlee. He wasn’t even sure what he saw in her to begin with. She acted cheap, common. All the things he despised. He’d only dated her a few times, among other girls. But she had decided that they were a ‘thing’. He’d hesitated to set her straight, knowing it would be a scene. He hated scenes.

            “Look, Marlee. I’m not even sure I will be around to go to Harvest Fest. My family has plans. If I can, I’ll get in touch with you.”

            “Promise?” she asked like a four-year-old trying to extract a guarantee for a treat from Mommy.

            “Of course,” he said. Disaster temporarily avoided, he thought.

***

            Logan walked along the state road, beside a cornfield on his way home. The stalks and leaves were turning brown. The pickers would be by any day, reducing the fields to stubble. Then the vista of sweeping plains and distant rolling hills would again be revealed. Once again everyone could see what a shit hole they lived in. Welcome to Butt Hole, Iowa.

This being a Wednesday he didn’t have to show up at Dad’s garage. He had a late study group on Wednesdays. At least, that’s what he told Dad. He was so lost in thought the loud rumble was almost upon him before he processed it. As soon as it registered, his heart was in his throat. He fought the urge to plunge into the cornfield, avoiding the bullies about to beset him, but that was the coward’s way out. The pickup with ridiculously high tires throttled down as it pulled up even to him. He continued walking, refusing to acknowledge the truck or its crew. Big Tommy Shaw was driving. Without looking, Logan knew that his right-hand man, Doug Mason would ride shotgun. Some mixture of football punks would ride in the back.

            “Hey, trailer trash. The trailer park’s the other way. You lost?” Tommy shouted, to hoots and snickers from his cronies. Logan walked on.

            “Hey, dick face. I’m talking to you.” Tommy didn’t like being ignored. Logan eyed the cornfield. If the guys jumped from the truck, he felt he could probably lose them in the field. Probably. The drying leaves rustled louder than when they were fresh and green.  He suddenly felt a thud, as someone hit him in the side with a soft drink cup, half full. Fortunately, it struck him broadside so when the plastic cap popped off, the soda splashed away from him.  He stopped and stared at the cup. There were ominous “oohs” from the truck bed as if daring him to retaliate. He bent down and found a fist-sized rock with nice jagged edges. He turned to face the truck.

            “You know, Tommy, I could probably get Dad to give you a discount on the body work your truck’s gonna need,” he said hefting the rock, and then looking at it pointedly. Tommy’s tricked out pickup was his baby. It was bright blue without a speck of dust. Logan knew just how to hurt Tommy the most.

            “You wouldn’t dare, faggot. I’ll kill you if you touch my truck.”

            “Well, I got a head start, and it’s a big cornfield. You’ll have to catch me first,” he hefted the rock again as if deciding where to start.

            “I’m warning you, Thomas. Don’t mess with my truck.” A succession of loud beeps suddenly interrupted him as Dylan’s roadster shot up into the gap between Tommy’s truck and Logan.

            “This pissant causing you trouble, Tommy?” Dylan called across to the truck.

            “Yeah, the fucker’s threatening to scratch my truck.”

            “Really!” There was the ratcheting sound of Dylan setting the emergency brake. “I think it’s time Mr. Thomas was taught to mind his manners in the presence of his betters.” He climbed out of the car and Logan took a step back.

            “Want any help, D?” Tommy asked. All the boys were getting excited now.

            “No thanks. I been wanting to kick this peckerwood’s ass for a long time. I plan to enjoy it.” As all the boys hollered, Dylan charged Logan. Logan seemingly caught Dylan’s arm unawares and swung him around. Releasing, he let Dylan stumble into a pile of kudzu in the ditch bank. And with that, Logan was off like a shot through the cornfield. The noise of the boys shouting their disappointment at losing the afternoon’s entertainment quickly faded in the background. He could still faintly hear their shouts of “Coward!”

            Logan slowed down to ease his breathing. No one was giving chase. He sighed. Just another day. He rolled with the emotional punches just as he did the physical ones, whether from his classmates or his dad. It was just how things were.

            The afternoon sun could not penetrate the thick canopy of cornstalk leaves, creating an oasis of coolness in the shadow. The rows were parallel to the state road, so he continued walking in the direction he had originally been travelling. Maybe I should walk a few rows inside the field every day. Avoid unnecessary conflicts, he thought. But then, the cornfield wouldn’t be here much longer.

            It wasn’t as if everyone hated him. He had friends. But the ‘in’ crowd had made him their whipping boy. The jocks, the rich kids, the social elite. What kind of threat was he? He never bothered them; he definitely didn’t want to be one of them. He was just marking time until he could escape this hellhole. Leave Iowa far behind.

The corn field abruptly ended at a dirt path, a path tractors and other farm equipment used to maneuver between fields. He turned left to follow the path. After a few miles of twisting through the fields, he would find his house.

            And no, he was not trailer trash. The Thomas house wasn’t nice like the rich kids, but it was respectable and paid for. Dad said it was his castle and couldn’t no one throw him out. Dad frequently made such pronouncements, usually after putting away a six-pack of beer. Logan had long since figured out that Dad was what was called a ‘functional alcoholic’. He owned his own business, made it successful, never showed up to work drunk or laid out. But evenings and weekends, he was drunk more often than he wasn’t. And he was a mean drunk. Along about the fourth beer you could see a change come over his face, an ugly sneer would form. That was the time they all made themselves scarce. His rages were unpredictable, triggered by anything or nothing. He knew Dad slapped Mom around, but weirdly, he never did it in front of the kids. However, he had no qualms about knocking Logan and his siblings around while Mom watched with worry. As the oldest, Logan took the brunt of it, often putting himself at risk to protect the younger ones. He was seventeen and just beginning to realize he could take on his father and best him in a fight. But he was unsure if he could ever really raise a hand to the man. He was so conditioned to back down.

***

            Logan rounded a curve in the path, about a mile in from the state road and straight ahead he saw a gleaming red sports car. Dylan Westfield was standing beside the car, leaning against it with arms crossed, as nonchalant as if it was not odd to see a pricey sports car parked on a dusty farm path. And Dylan was staring at him. Logan felt his pulse quicken.

            He continued trudging along the path, never looking away. He slowed slightly as he neared the car but kept moving ahead. When it looked as if he might pass by, Dylan abruptly stepped forward, blocking the path. He forced Logan to stop. Dylan regarded him with his arms still crossed, a wry grin on his face.

            “They almost got you today. You need to be more careful.”

            “Yeah, thanks for the bail.”

            “Always. What would I do without you?” He opened his arms and Logan stepped into his embrace. They stood for a few minutes, as if drawing strength from each other.

            “It’s just so hard. I hate this stupid game we’re playing,” Logan mumbled into Dylan’s shoulder. “Having to act like I hate you all the time.”

            “I know, babe. It sucks. But we have our plan. It’ll work out.”

            Releasing Logan, he walked to the trunk of the little car.

            “By the way, nice ride,” Logan said. “Birthday present?”

            “Yeah, thanks, maybe I can give you a ride sometime.”

            “Not likely. What would people think?”

Opening the trunk, Dylan removed a blanket and a cooler. They walked over to a grassy spot near the edge of the field. The stalks blocked the lowering sun, casting a shadow over their little picnic area. After spreading the blanket, they both sat down.

            Dylan opened the cooler and took out a couple of beers. He also had a bag of chips.  He sat the bag between them and passed Logan a bottle.

            Logan looked at Dylan.

            “Trailer trash? Really? You called me trailer trash? I gotta admit. That stings.”

            “Well, you called me prissy.”

            They both burst out laughing at the same time. Logan held his beer out. Dylan tapped it with his and they drank.

            After the beers, and most of the chips, they laid on the blanket, Logan on his back, Dylan on his side, looking at him.

            “Hey, babe. I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings. You know I didn’t mean any of it,” Dylan said.

            “I know. I was just razzing you.”

            “Promise?”

            “Yeah.” Logan heaved himself up on one elbow. “C’mere.” Dylan scooted closer so they could get their arms around each other and laid back in a kiss.

            When they finally came up for air, Dylan whispered huskily, “Oh man, I needed that.”

            “Me too.” They resumed kissing and exploring each other’s bodies. After a while they simply rested in each other’s arms, relishing the quiet of nature and the simple joy of touching.

            All too soon the creeping shadows said the day was done. They both had worlds requiring their return.

            “When will this end?” Logan asked plaintively.       

            Dylan smiled at his undeclared lover. “Soon, babe. Just a few more months and we can leave this punk ass town.”

            “It’s so easy for you to dream. Any dream I’ve ever had was quickly stamped out by my bastard of a father. I don’t think I know how to dream anymore.”

            “We’ll make it. I’ll dream for both of us if I have to. I meant to tell you, I got early acceptance at Dartmouth. The letter came this weekend. You’re coming with me. We’ll use your money to enroll you in classes to become a certified mechanic. You already know all that stuff.”

            “Suppose it’s not enough?”

            “You worry too much. I’ll pay our way until you’re on your feet. If you’re too proud to let me support you, then keep track and you can pay me back. We love each other and this lets us get out of this shit hole state and be together.”

            “I’m afraid to hope for it. What’ll we tell our folks?”

            “I’d say we tell your dad nothing. That asshole doesn’t even deserve a ‘goodbye’. I think my dad’s figuring it out. He’s not going to want a fag running the company, so he’ll probably offer me a shitload of money to stay away after college. I plan to take the money and then come back and milk him for more. Surely, he can spare a few million for his least favorite son. And Mom still loves me, and she’s loaded, too. More money than Dad. Money will never be a problem for us.”

            “But I mean how much longer at school? I’m tired of pretending to hate you.”

            “Yeah, it’s getting old. But we agreed that this was the better way. The so-called popular crowd already hated you, so there was no real way we would ever be friends. But if we didn’t do something, people would figure it out just from the way I stare at you. This way, I can look at you, drink in your beauty, interact with you, even touch you, and no one’s the wiser.”

            “Yeah, but it’s killing me.”

            “I know, me too. But it’s the only way I can figure. Don’t you think we’re worth it?”

            “We are so definitely worth it. You are worth it. I’ll do whatever it takes to be with you.”

            Dylan leaned in for a long, lingering kiss.

            “That’s what I need to hear. We’re strong. We will prevail.”

            After a few moments of silence, both boys stood and without words stowed the blanket and empty bottles in Dylan’s car. When everything was cleared, Dylan sat in the driver’s seat of his shiny red roadster. Logan leaned against the door, holding Dylan’s hand as if it were a lifeline. He hated the stinging of unshed tears as he kissed his lover goodbye.

            “See you tomorrow, babe. And I promise. No more trailer trash. I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

            “It’s okay. I may still call you prissy, though. This car is so prissy.”

            “Yeah, and you love it,” Dylan laughed and sped away down the dusty lane. The sky was a glory of reds and purples desperately trying to hold on to the day. Logan couldn’t take time to notice the beauty. His family expected him home soon. No, not home. Just a temporary stopping point. His real home was elsewhere, with the boy with golden hair, icy blue eyes, infectious grin and a shiny red car.

Reset

Most of the magazines I’ve been marketing my stories to say that the work shouldn’t have been published previously. They also usually add a statement that putting them up on a personal blog does not count as publishing. Some of them are now saying they also don’t want them if they are published anywhere, including a private blog. So, to keep my writings viable I’m taking down the stories that I’m marketing. I’m leaving up stories that I don’t plan to try to sell, general writing and a chapter (Best Summer Ever) from my novel in progress. As stories are published (hopefully), I’ll create a menu of published work and post those stories on my blog. I have three I can post right now, one of which has never been seen on the blog. I have another three that I need to wait until the magazines publish them. Sorry for all the confusion.

The Inherent Indignity of Flying

I guess I should subtitle this as my politically incorrect musings on the trials of modern air travel. In my part time job working for an accreditation agency I fly frequently. In years when I manage one survey per month that’s twelve trips. There and back means I’m in the air 24 times. Since you can’t get many places directly from RDU, most of my trips involve a layover. Add in ski trips and cruises and I guess it’s safe to say I’m in the air over 40 times a year. So, I know whereof I speak.

I tend to avoid United. I’ve got nothing against them other than they seem to have purchased their fleet from a third world country.

And I never really liked Southwest’s festival seating. If I buy a ticket, that should be the end of it. You have to call early to get a good number. They entice you to pay $15 extra so you can call in 36 hours before the flight rather than 24. So, I did. I still got a C number. C stands for crappy seat; probably between two wrestlers with 3 ft wide shoulders. But for another $35 they can guarantee an A placement. How is this different than simple bribery?

American Airlines is annoying for several reasons. Any airmiles I’ve earned during the year they decide to ditch at the end of the year. Or I can “redeem” them for magazines no one wants. Golf Digest? Cigars? Really? And can you believe there is actually a magazine for pipe smokers? The other issue is their handling of irregular situations. I was trying to get home from Tucson last spring. There was an ice storm in Chicago that cascaded to bring the entire nation to a standstill. I arrived at the airport about 9 am, the requisite 2 hours before my flight. Check in was a nightmare. I was having back problems at that time and couldn’t stand more than a few minutes. I ended up sitting down in the line. Eventually I saw a wheelchair person walking by and flagged them down. Me and my wheelchair lady then waited in line for another hour. Then we had to get through security. Once past security my flight kept getting pushed further and further back. I admire the counter personnel for not fighting back at the people who were shouting at them, but they did keep us in the dark about what was going on. We apparently were in a satellite terminal and couldn’t leave. By early evening the terminal ran out of food. A hundred stranded, frustrated people were getting hungry. I feared it would get ugly. By ten that night they said they had booked me on a midnight flight to Dallas. At least that was part of the way home. I landed in Dallas about 2 am. The airlines then said they had a 7 am flight to RDU. I figured I could get about 4 hours of sleep if I went to a hotel. Plus, I’d only had one meal that day (a cheese quesadilla with no cheese because they ran out of cheese, but not quesadilla). I grabbed an airport hotel (with no food other than a vending machine). I think I ended up getting about 3 hours of sleep. Back at the airport the next morning and my flight was delayed. And delayed. I finally got home about 6 pm. I tried to get some compensation from American. I had been a hungry, sleep deprived guest of theirs for 33 hours. They refused to pay for my cheeseless quesadilla. They said I should have used a meal voucher from the American counter. I explained that the American counter didn’t have any vouchers. No. I should have used the meal voucher available at the American counter. Well, how about the hotel bill? They would pay part of it. They would short me about $40 because it was over the amount they allowed. I got really steamed over this. It was not a luxury hotel and was right by the airport. In fact, the morning of my flight I rode in the shuttle with three American employees who’d spent the night in the same hotel. Am I not as good as their employees? I never could escalate my claim past “Jason” whom I could tell from his stuttering answers was a pimply faced kid. I finally filed a written grievance, but it was denied. So, I don’t fly American.

I like Delta. I fly them a lot and have a lot of skymiles. I even have silver elite status. That means I get to walk on the right side of the post when boarding the plane rather than the left side with the unwashed masses. I have actually been bumped up to first class a few times.

Getting to the gate has been problematic in the past year. As mentioned earlier, I have been experiencing back issues that make walking long distances painful. The airports mostly have wheelchair service to help with that. But you have to request it when you check in online. If you show up at the airport looking for a chair, you’re gonna wait.

On many trips I use a rental car. I still haven’t worked out getting my luggage and me from the car rental place to the airport painlessly. Sometimes there’s a shuttle. That usually works. But some smaller airports require you to walk (with your luggage) from the rental place to the airport. In some airports (I’m thinking of one in Rhode Island) that could be a long haul.

I like riding the wheelchair. You get some special treatment, such as being allowed to break line. The pushers are all very nice and usually young. And overwhelmingly Arabic. Just this weekend I was pushed in various airports by Ahmed, Abdul and Mohammed. One anomaly was at an airport last year when I was waiting at a counter. The counter attendant asked if I needed help. I said I was waiting for a chair. He said he’d take care of it. After a few minutes on the phone he told me Jimmy was on his way. A few minutes later he said, “Here’s Jimmy, now.” Jimmy came limping up and I’m pretty sure he was on the high side of 70. The way he was limping I wanted to get up and let him ride. But huffing and puffing he got me to the gate. He said he was limping from his recent knee replacement. I felt like a bad person making him push me.

I had an unpleasant experience with wheelchairs last year, I believe it was somewhere out west. I deplaned at the airport late at night. We were at the next to last gate down a long terminal hallway. I asked the gate attendant as I arrived if they had called ahead for the wheelchair since I didn’t see it. She said they had not. I thought that odd since I asked the people at the airport, I was flying from to call ahead for the chair. You’re not supposed to have to do that, but I do from experience. She called for the chair. I sat and waited about half an hour. I asked her to check on it, so she called again. After more waiting I noticed a house phone on the wall. It said it was for emergencies only. I considered this an emergency, so I picked up the phone. It didn’t work. I noticed another one about 50 ft. down the terminal. So, I went to that one. The guy who answered was nice and said he’d send a wheelchair right away. While using that phone I noticed a cache of wheelchairs in the corner. Most of them had the 4 small wheels, but one was a more traditional one with the large wheels so the sitter could push himself. Rather than walk the distance back to the counter, I got in and rode back to the waiting area. The wheels weren’t as large as usual chairs, so I had to really stretch to reach them. But I managed. The counter lady said I wasn’t supposed to use the airport chairs without an attendant. I have to admit I just looked at her and stayed in my chair. And still no attendant to push me. I had been waiting for about an hour now. I reasoned, I got me a chair. Let’s go. So, I put my carry-on in my lap and started pushing myself toward baggage claim. Totally against all airport regs, but the terminal was deserted. I’d have welcomed security personnel wanting to correct me. After a few hundred feet the counter lady caught up to me. She said she was getting off and this part of the terminal was shutting down for the night. She said she couldn’t just leave me, so she pushed me down to baggage claim. She shouldn’t have had to do that. Something went very wrong.

One of the so-called perks of being injured is that you are allowed to get on the planes before the others. If you have flown recently you know that the width of the aisle is now about 16-18 inches. Since I usually have an aisle seat, getting on early allows me to be banged over and over as people come in with their oversized carry-ons and the inevitable backpack. Someone speaks to them and they turn, oblivious of the backpack and it whacks me upside the head. And the average American person is more than 18 inches wide. So, they are squeezing down the aisle, snagging people who are already sitting and dragging us along.

And speaking of squeezing, flight attendants are no longer the Ken and Barbie dolls of yesteryear. They come in all shapes and sizes. I recently flew with one who may want to reconsider her career choice. She was on the plump side. She turned sideways to squeeze down the aisle, but she was as thick as she was wide. She exceeded the 18-inch barrier in all directions. It was a struggle for her coming and going. And on a flight this weekend the attendant had a full beard. I have never liked beards. I think they are creepy. You don’t what might be nesting in there. It was an evening flight and when Duck Dynasty suddenly loomed up out of the dark I nearly jumped out of my skin. I don’t do beards.

Dealing with fellow travelers can be a joy, sometimes. Then there are other times. Like the lady who I swear must have bathed in cheap perfume. I hope I never smell “Charley!” again. And the guy who may have had a bath in the past month, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Or the chatty conservative Christian lady who led to me putting on my headphones and turning up the music mid-sentence. The seat may be saved, but I’m not. And children can be the worst. I question the need to bring a newborn onto a plane. It can be painful to their ears and inevitably causes crying. If grandma just has to see Junior, send her a ticket. I was on a cross country flight with three babies on board. I think they fed off each other, wailing in sychronicity and three-part harmony.

Apparently parenting has gone out of style. Take the case of Little Leo whom I encountered last year. Little Leo and Mommy were sitting behind me. Little Leo was about 4. He started kicking my seat. I could barely feel it, so I didn’t complain. Still Mommy tried to stop him. She explained all about how it was bad manners and yadda yadda. Leo couldn’t care less. He just kept on kicking. And Mommy kept trying to convince him to stop. We hit turbulence so the captain said all tray tables should be up. Leo was having no part of this. Whenever Mommy tried to put up his tray he screamed. And apparently fought. Daddy who was sitting across the aisle told him Mommy doesn’t like it when you pull her hair and then, Mommy doesn’t like it when you hit her. WTF? Don’t they know you can’t reason with a four-year-old? He’s obviously running the show and turning into a little monster. As we stood up to deplane Mommy apologized to me. I just said, “no problem” and left, glad to be free from her constantly redirecting Leo. As I headed up the jetway I heard a sudden blood curdling scream. I looked back and little Leo had thrown himself on the floor at the entrance to the plane having a full-blown old-fashioned tantrum. I feel sorry for little Leo. It’s not his fault. But he will one day have a rude awakening. Maybe people should have to get a license to have a kid. Small children are nothing but id. The Lord of the Flies demonstrated what happens when left to their own devices. Our job is to civilize them. A long time ago in a rom-com with Rob Lowe and Demi Moore (a very long time ago) her best friend was a kindergarten teacher. She said, “My job is to break their spirit.” Pretty strong but not far from the truth.

Bon voyage!

The Accidental Novel

Hey, folks. Good news. For me at least. I now have seven stories that have been accepted for publishing in magazines. One is in this month’s Scarlet Leaf. You can find it online. In the meantime, take a look at this.

The Accidental Novel

            I never meant to write a novel. I never even wanted to write a novel. Novels are long and intricate and take a sustained effort. Much longer than I could ever maintain. Novels are written by smart people or people with something to say. What could I possibly say that would interest someone for 250 to 300 pages?

            Sure, like everyone the thought has flitted through my brain “I should write a book” and just as quickly flitted out again. I had lots of ideas even, but again I thought, how could I sustain them to novel length? It never even occurred to me that I could write a short story. I don’t know why. I enjoy reading short stories. It should have been obvious to me. But there are many things that should have been obvious to which I was oblivious. But that’s for another time and another story.

            It all began with my love of ballroom dancing. I’ve been dancing for nearly 40 years. I’m not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I dabble as a hobby rather than make it a focus. To become really good, I would have to work at it. Then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. I want to keep it fun. An outgrowth of this is my enjoyment of Dancing With The Stars. I don’t really watch much TV. I don’t have a favorite show or anything like that. If I turn on the TV, it’s usually to watch a movie. But I make a point to watch every episode of DWTS. It’s frequently campy and awful, but always entertaining. Since I have a decent knowledge of ballroom dancing and definite opinions about DWTS, about five years ago, maybe more, I started writing a little critique of each show. These were very tongue in cheek, little about the actual dancing but more my opinions on the format, the performers, anything that came to mind that was related. If you want an example of what I wrote, check it under DWTS on the blog.

            I sent out these reviews by email to friends who also watched the show and would understand. People seemed to enjoy them. I got favorable comments. One lady said she had to stop reading my posts at the library because it made her laugh out loud. She was also the one who kept telling me I should start a blog. I kept telling her I had no interest in a blog.

            Short stories weren’t totally foreign to me. I wrote a few in high school as English assignments. In college I took a creative writing class for which I had to write a 5 page plus story. I was not quite satisfied with my result, but the teacher thought it was excellent. I got an A. That story has since been lost in the sands of time. But about three years ago I had a dream. The protagonist of my college story came to me and complained that I had gotten his story wrong. He proceeded to tell me the correct story. I woke up and was amazed at the detail of the dream. I got up in the middle of the night and wrote down everything he told me. That became the story “It Went Down Like This.” It’s on my blog. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable comments such as “breezy” and “delightful”. You know, nice things. It became for several years a little noticed file in my computer.

            My father had died shortly before that. As I cleared out his house, I went through all his souvenirs and mementos. Many were meaningless to me, so I threw them out. But I also got a chance to review his photo albums again. The pictures brought back such nice memories. It was a very life affirming experience. I also found a bundle of letters to him from Mom when he was in the Army. There were about twenty letters covering his first three months in service. I don’t know why he saved these and no others. I was unsure if I should read them. On the one hand, they were private correspondence. But on the other, both were dead, so I didn’t feel like I was violating privacy. I’m glad I read them. I got a glimpse of my parents as two young people in love. The letters were endearing, sometimes annoying, a few times even heart breaking.

            My folks had told stories as I was growing up about their courtship. I had lots of family all around who kept the family history alive. Those people are now gone or scattered. I hated to think of such a nice love story being forgotten. So, I wrote “A Love Story”, also on my blog, using the oral traditions and the letters. I meant to send it to family members on Facebook. As usually happens when I get on Facebook, things when awry. I accidentally posted the story to everyone I know. I got lots of feedback on what a “lovely story” it was. I was encouraged to write more. A friend said I should send stories like that to magazines. The thought had never crossed my mind. But I was intrigued. Write short stories? Maybe it was a possibility. I did have a few ideas. But what do I know about writing? Would I be any good?

            Well, sixty stories later I still don’t know if I’m any good, but I’m having a great time. And that’s the point. I don’t care if I’m the next Ernest Hemingway or Stephen King. I write stories for my own pleasure. Since I’m not trying to support myself by writing it’s not a problem. I’ll do it as long as it’s fun.

            One of my early stories was “Best Summer Ever”. It was a kind of coming of age, teenage summer love story. It was from an idea I had as a teenager spending frequent weekends at Atlantic Beach, NC. That’s where the story is set. It’s just the latest iteration of an old trope. I didn’t explore any new ground or new ways of looking at it. I just wanted to add my version. I am happy with the story and it’s on my blog, I think.

            I have a good friend who reads my stories and helps with editing. She has made me follow the rules of paragraphs, hyphens and Oxford commas. I also value her opinions of my work. In discussing the story one day, she offered that she wondered about the background of the female protagonist of “Best Summer Ever”. I reviewed what little background I put in the story. She said she just wondered if there were more. I said that I could write a story about her, but that would require me to channel a 15-year-old girl and I didn’t think I could do that. She replied that I probably couldn’t. Well, that sounded like a challenge. So, I wrote a prequel to BSE. I named it “A Pretty Girl”. The two stories fit together well, and it gave me the idea of coming back and revisiting favorite characters. That led to the two Duchessa stories and the two Escape stories.

            I had left BSE with the comment that the next school year was going to be interesting. Re-reading the story one day I wondered what was going to happen next. Some of my stories I consciously create, building on a template of what I want it to be. Other stories, the ones I enjoy most, are from my subconscious. I tap into it and it pours out on the page, often surprising me. This was to be one of those times. I pulled up a blank page, wrote that Robbie was entering the school and then I opened up and let go. As promised, “Gordo” was a wild ride. Suddenly I had a trilogy. Now I had two stories from the male viewpoint and one from the female. I felt like the ladies should have equal say and “Gordo” only covered half the school year, so I finished out the school year with “Heroes” from the female viewpoint.

            My editing friend said I may have a YA novel on my hands. I reminded her that four short stories are not a novel and I had no desire to write a novel. I intended to leave it at that.

            My touch of OCD kicked in as I realized I had an outcome left hanging in the previous stories. Robbie’s relationship with his brother was not worked out. I wrote a story to reconcile them. As I neared the end of the story, I found that Robbie was not ready to forgive his brother and I couldn’t force it and be true to the story I was writing. The story became “Unforgiven”. I continued trying with another story which became “Finding Forgiveness” and the brothers found a way to co-exist.

            My friend then asked me what’s the deal with Kylie? He’s just background setting, like a lifeless prop. Does he have a story? So that led to “Survivor”. Then I wrote about Robbie finding the girl who would be the love of his life in the midst of a school shooting. That became “Love Among the Ruins”. By this time, I was eight stories in with this group of kids. I had to admit that my friend was right. It was looking like a YA novel.

            So, I kept going. There was “Requiem” as the group held a memorial service for one of their number who committed suicide. Then “Wedding Bells” as a couple got married. Then I backed up and wrote “Senior Year” to fill in a gap. Then there was “Act of Mercy”, the first few pages of which are autobiographical. Then “Kylie and the Spooks” and would it up with “This Perfect Moment” in which 32-year-old Robbie looks back over the past sixteen years and assesses how good his life has been. Looking over it I realized I had left out one important story. It was the hardest to write but I pushed through. It was the story of a character’s suicide. I wrote it first person present tense, so I was inside his head. As I mentioned, it was difficult. I call it “Fade to Black”.

            So now I have sixteen chapters and nearly 100,000 words. Yep, it’s a novel. I’ve entitled it “I Guess It’s Called Growing Up”. That is a comment someone makes in the last chapter. When it poured out on the page I immediately knew it as the title of the book. I’ve shown it to “People Who Know These Things” and gotten favorable reviews and urges to send it to publishers. I’m still editing it, but maybe one day it will find a home with a publisher. It would be cool to have a book, but that’s the last one. I have no intention of writing another novel.

Remember Me?

After a long hiatus I am back. Remember me? No new stories for you yet. I’ve got a few put back for a rainy day, but I’m not ready to bring them out yet. I’ve mostly been working on editing my novel. I just revised an entire chapter going in another direction. Now I have to go through and find places where the events of that chapter were remembered and fix them.

I’m also a fair-weather writer. When in don’t feel well I just cannot write. I’m now in the midst of a chemical peel of my entire face. It either hurts, aches, itches or stings all the time. I began on January 2 under order from my dermatologist. This week has been the worst. I thought about posting a picture but decided against it. Just think zombie movie. That’s why this post is going to be short. I can’t keep focused when all I want to do is rip off my face.

Good news. A magazine accepted four submissions (I withdrew one for personal reasons). They wanted them for different issues. The anniversary issue is out today. You can see it at  www.scarletleafreview.com. I’m the second story after the opening interview with a poet. Just after the story about stray cats.

I’m going to go now. And try not to rip off my face. Until next time.