The Stranger on the Road

a barnEver since he’d set the barn up as a recording studio, he’d wanted a window so he could see his farm while he played. Windows not being inherently sound-deadening, it was a complication, but over time he’d hit upon a solution involving multiple layers of glass embedded in spongy soft stuff that helped reduce sound transmission.

So when the old man in the battered brown hat headed up his gravel driveway, he didn’t have to wait for the surprise of someone banging on the big barn door and messing up the track he was recording. He’d stopped playing his old Telecaster to watch as the stranger trudged up the drive, never raising his head enough to reveal his face.

But there was no banging on the door. With no windows anywhere else in the barn, he didn’t know if the old guy had gone around, or was just standing there.

Easy enough to find out.

He hung the guitar on the wall and crossed to the door, sliding the crossbar and pushing outward.

Mr. Brown Hat stepped back, blinking, obviously surprised.

“Um, hey, I’m sorry, uh, I was just . . . ” His hands wiggled around as he talked.

“Did you need something? Like, I mean, are you lost? Long way from anywhere, sir.”

The elderly gent chuckled. “I’ve been lost a long, long time, but not how you mean.” He shuffled his feet, glanced toward the road, shoved his hands in his pockets.

“I was passing, y’know, just walking down the road, and I heard the music, and, well, it drew me. I wasn’t trying to trespass, just getting closer to hear it better.”

That brought a chuckle. “You do realize that’s the shortest route to a musician’s heart, right?”

He pushed the door open wider. “If you want to listen, you might as well come in and get comfortable.”

The traveler pulled his hat off and held out his hand. “Morris. Morris Michael Miller. For which I apologize on behalf of my long-departed parents.”

“No apology necessary, Morris Michael Miller. I’m Reed. Reed Smith, most common last name in the English-speaking world, I guess.”

“There’s a reason for that, but instead of boring you with that, what if I sit down and shut up and you can play some more of that hopeful-sounding stuff you were playing.”

Reed smiled. “Hopeful? I guess the words made the music lean that way. Come on in.”

Morris found his way to one of the battered old kitchen chairs near the biggest speakers, and Reed grabbed the Tele and sat down to play.

He had no idea he’d just begun the greatest friendship of his life, nor that the stranger he’d taken in would live out the rest of his long life on the farm he’d been passing for no reason except that was where the road took him.


wading naked into my stream of consciousness

the sky is grey instead of blue that’s one thing here, the sky is almost always blue but that’s because it’s too hot for clouds they burn away before they’re born borne on the wind to somewhere else past the mountains snagging on the peaks leaking leaks we do get rain maybe even some later this week but it’s a desert after all so not much eh and let’s face it july through october it’s just too hot seriously any time the temperature is over 120º that’s not okay and the ac chugs and chugs but hey it still costs less than it did in Sacramento eight years ago half as much if only we could balance the upstairs and downstairs the music room is too too hot and it’s not good for the instruments but if I shower four times a day and we keep the air on and now that I have shades for the three hottest windows maybe four hottest windows and I’ll do the fifth maybe this summer it’ll be better because one way or another I’ll make it better we’ll make it better together


Proofreading Done on “Love Runs Out”

Yesterday the proofed version of Love Runs Out plopped into my inbox.

I impressed me, I did.

In a 44,000-word novel, there were about 30 typos, and 2 issues with wording, both effectively typos.

That’s a 7/100s of 1% error rate.

James does excellent work. He catches errors even after I’ve gone through a dozen times. His attention to detail is flawless. He also does a certain level of editing, questioning unusual wording, and he loves fact-checking. He really loves fact-checking.

I’ll have the manuscript finalized by end of week, meaning all I have left now is to settle, for sure, finally, absolutely, on the font for the cover.


The Engineer’s Funeral

when we’re told to look to the ant
it is because they are industrious
not because they are smart
consider: if a shoe the size of a Lincoln Continental smooshed a guy down the street, would you rush down so you could be next?

even their industriousness is shaded
and I mean no disrespect, because they do indeed get things done
you can, when you never sleep
your whole life
at all
not to mention your 99,999 brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins once twice thrice removed
because that is a lot of sleepless doing of stuff
but if two of you grab the same twig
and then head in opposite directions
because, you know, the “no leader” thing
you might be observed in a certain laboratory playing tug of war for two weeks
two
weeks
and that twig could have sprouted roots for all the progress you’ve made

there is a chap who finds empty nests
of the ant kind
and fills them with aluminum
of the molten kind
and then
dig dig dig
flip brush wash
and mount
you have a monument in aluminum to the engineering prowess of a tiny chap and his extended family who still don’t have the sense to avoid their third cousin’s funeral


Molotov Brothers

Transcript (but it’s better if you listen)

My brothers discovered Molotov cocktails when we were teenagers. In case you don’t know what they are, as my brothers discovered it’s just a little bit of gasoline and a little bit less oil in a glass jar with a rag stuffed in the top. Wet the rag with the gasoline in the jar, light it on fire, and throw it. When it lands and explodes it creates a smoky fire that, in battle, or riots, disrupts the enemy, adding confusion and a smokescreen and fire and broken glass and all kinds of mess and nonsense.

I’m the middle brother, one brother 18 months older, the other 18 months younger, so we went through life almost like triplets—except one of us didn’t go around making Molotov cocktails. We lived right at the bottom end of San Diego Bay. There were disused railroad tracks right across the street and quarter of a mile away, a railroad bridge. Down below the bridge, 20 feet away, was a tiny stream and rocks where my brothers experimented with their Molotov cocktails. First a baby food jar with a tablespoon of oil and a quarter cup of gasoline which exploded, made a nice boom and burned till the water washed it away.

Then mayonnaise jars. Finally, when that wasn’t exciting enough, a quart of gasoline and a pint of oil in a glass gallon jar.

They lit it on fire, leaned over the edge of the railroad bridge, and dropped it on the rocks below. The explosion fluttered their pants and took all the hair off their faces and some off their heads. They were half way home before they realized they were running, and in their bedrooms studying for some imaginary school quiz when the police and fire department showed up to see what the explosion was out there in the estuary where all the protected wildlife lived.

I’ve always assumed they hadn’t blown up any California least terns or other endangered species but I wasn’t there so I don’t know. My father found out virtually everything they ever did (we discovered later because he’d also done the same things) but I’m not sure that the experimentation with blowing things up ever came to light. But I also know that after they almost blew themselves up and removed all their facial hair in the process, they never experimented with blowing things up again.


A Reading on Reading

have you heard the sad fact
that after school most people never read another book?
this is confusing to me
are they too busy? too tired? did they forget how?
it isn’t a lack of great books
I read a new one every year, another weighty tome filled with deathless prose that makes me feel and makes me see things differently, changes my perspective, changes me
and who’s too busy for that?

maybe they don’t want to change
and I get it
because I didn’t either, until I did
it’s inertia, that thing Newton described, that a person without direction will remain directionless, a resister of change will resist until resistance is not futile but painful
because they say we only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same
and that’s sad, too, if you only change to change the pain
and I know pain can make you tired but never be too tired to move away from pain and what if a book will change you without pain, did you consider that?

but I don’t think they know about the change thing, so it must be that they’ve forgotten how
forgotten how to slip between the covers of a gentleman in Moscow, how to go back to 11.22.63, where to hunt for Red October or ditch the big sleep and be gone with the wind
or they’ve mislaid the memory of saying goodnight moon with a hungry caterpillar and a purple crayon where those wild things weave a web and cats wear hats and hop on who knows who
or maybe they never knew about how the pigeon found that hot dog and why he shouldn’t drive the bus, why Anne must be spelled with an e, how the wind sounds in the willows or how to find where the sidewalk ends

but if a little engine could, even after a terrible horrible no good very bad day
maybe we can teach them again
and they’ll remember that reading doesn’t hurt, it heals
and after the initial inertia instead of resistance we’ll have more readers
and the readers’ kids will be readers
like yours
and like mine
like you
and me
and wouldn’t that be splendid?


Aging Squared

My dad was 26 when I was born. I was 26 when he died in a traffic accident.

My mom was 18 when I was born. As I approach 60 this year, she just turned 78.

When Dad died at 52 he was riding his bike 20 miles each way to work every day.

Mom has never been quite so active. These days, she’s bedridden and uses a wheelchair to get around—except when she doesn’t.

She’s started falling down. A lot. We’ve reached that point where we’re having the difficult conversations about her care and her living conditions. She’s mentally competent, so it’s her decision, but we worry about her living in a regular apartment instead of somewhere there’s onsite help when she falls.

I’m too old for this. Also too old to have a 15-year-old daughter excited about learning to drive later this year.

Maybe I’m just too old, period.

(Nah. Saw a short video about a wonderful lady who’s 108 and still chugging along, happy as Moses and loved by so many people. Here’s to my next 49 years!)


Wind in the Trees

Excerpt from a book I plan to finish someday.

Long before the huge Buick burst from the trees he heard the thrum of the huge engine his Uncle Quest bragged about. Gravel scrunched and popped as he slowed abruptly to turn into the driveway.

The massive door slammed. “Hey, Plum!”

“Hey yourself, Plum!” His uncle and aunt had been making up nonsense greetings for as long as he could remember. Never with others, just between them. Fruits meant happy, good news, his uncle’s wide smile and his aunt blushing.

“Where’s my princess? Or did she get promoted to empress by now?” Bets giggled as she ducked behind Momma’s chair. Betsy squealed as Quentin gave her hair a tug over Beth’s shoulder.

“What are you hearing?” His uncle sat behind him and looked over his shoulder toward the trees.

“Just the wind.”

“Saying anything I oughta hear?”

“Nah.” He was always a little embarrassed when his uncle asked about the things he heard. Not because he was mocking, but because he wasn’t.

“Alright, then. Keep me posted, eh?”

“Sure.” He couldn’t help smiling. His uncle was the biggest man he knew and yet he seemed small. No, not small, quiet. Young. Something like that. To look at him you’d expect a bear or a bull, but he was more like a cat, a big friendly cat.