Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Smoking Car

I quit smoking ten years ago, and in honor of that here's a funny story about my dad's first stint at smoking (I'm pretty sure I got his permission to tell this story five years ago when I wrote this piece; if not, then, um, dad, I did this thing).

My dad and his French-Canadian mother rode a train to Connecticut after visiting family in Quebec for about a month. A gentleman sat in the train compartment with them as it steamed along towards the U.S. (in my mind it's a steam powered locomotive, and honestly, I have no idea, but it's not important, it's just a visual). The man pulled out a thin cigarette, lit it, and tried to smoke it. I say tried because my dad boldly plucked it from the startled man's fingers before he could take a second drag. My dad puffed on that cigarette like a cosmopolitan businessman who worked on Wall Street, his palm flat with the white tobacco stick resting between his index and middle fingers as comfortably as a pencil. My father, playing the part of a grown man was all of two years old. Yes, I said two years old.

Apparently, my dad's uncles thought it was hilarious to watch a two year old smoke (really, who doesn't think that's funny?) Unbeknownst to their sister they would light a cigarette or a pipe, place it in his toddler hand, and then they'd fall on the floor laughing themselves silly at this aberration. If this happened today there would be a viral video and child neglect charges, but this was the 1940's; doctors prescribed smoking to calm nerves, so back then a child smoking might have been seen as a way to keep him entertained, much like handing over your iPhone to a screaming toddler is today.

So picture, if you will, the cover of Van Halen's "1984": the blonde cherub with the curl of hair dangling over its forehead, casually leaning against a table, looking like a freshly born angel -- except for the cigarette burning between his chubby fingers. That's how I picture my dad, aged two, taking tokes off a stranger's cigarette, without a care in the world...until it registered in my usually reserved grandmother's mind what was occurring.

She slapped the enkindled cigarette out of my dad's hand. It spun end over end onto the floor. The gentleman smoker, speechless but amused, stamped out the cigarette with his shoe. My dad, confused at why he'd just been slapped, cried and watched through teary eyes his cigarette get crushed underfoot. He held out his flush hand for a replacement. The gentleman chuckled. My grandmother covered her face with both hands. My dad wailed, opening and closing his outstretched hand like a baby bird wanting to be fed.

Thinking on her feet, she offered the man a penny for another cigarette (it's 1942!!!). He proffered it and she motioned for her petulant son to come closer. His crying abruptly stopped as soon as the stick was fit between his fingers. He put it in his mouth and waited...and waited...and waited. When he realized what he was missing, he frowned and pointed to the unlit tip. My dad wasn't a big whiner, however, this was important. The severity of this injustice and the uselessness of an unlit cigarette brought forth a tiny whimper.

My grandmother shook her head and told her son if he wanted to smoke he would have to light it himself, she wasn't doing it for him. She didn't smoke, why should she indulge him? She asked the gentleman for a match and he handed her a thin matchbook. After tearing a match free she gave it to her son. He knew what he was doing, he saw his father strike a match twenty times a day. He had this, he'd be smoking in no time.

Many years later, as my dad related this story to me, he held out the back of his hand, pointing to a small mark between the knuckles of his middle and ring fingers. He said, "This is the scar from that match." And that was his last cigarette -- for eleven years.

(I'd like to add that my dad quit smoking before I was born, so my bad habit was by no means a result of seeing him smoke).

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Grand Tour

Welcome back!!! Google has been kind enough to give me all of this space to work with, I'm very grateful to them. It's almost too much space, but it's free (except for giving them my personal information to do who knows what with) so why should I complain? Let's take a quick tour of the place.

First, you'll notice the ginormous bookcase behind me. I do have the books to fill it. Seriously, I'm mad with books. I've been collecting DC's Absolute Editions; they take up a bunch of space, but they are beautiful pieces of art. Yes, Marvel, I haven't forgotten you. Remember, I have some of your nice omnibuses (omnibusi? omnibuseses? Spell check is okay with omnibuses, I'm going with that): Hawkeye by Fraction and Aja, Guardians of the Galaxy by Bendis, and Spider-Man by McFarlane. What's that Image? Yes, yes, yes I have your wonderful collections as well: Deadly Class by Remender & Craig, East of West by Hickman & Dragotta, and Saga by Vaughan & Staples (have I named dropped enough?).

To the right, under links, is my artist/friend/co-creator's website, the amazing Murad Abu-Rayyan. Check out his site and enjoy the phenomenal pages he's created from my resplendent writing. Here's a sample:

Go ahead and click on his link to see more. I'll wait...

Amazing, right? I'm telling you he brings something to the table that resembles genius. If we're successful it will be because of his artwork (and my writing, the guy can barely spell). By the way, he gave me that Miles Davis painting. It's mine, you can't have it. And he can't have it back either.

The next name is my dear friend, Frank: comic collector, movie buff, and all around good guy. He updates his blog regularly, covering pop culture, movies, collectables, and more (wow, that's a lot of Doc Savage stuff). He also writes the movie information sheets for the Paramount Theater's summer movie festival. Check him out.

I've listed a couple of other blogs and websites I enjoy reading. More will follow.

Also on the right of the page are the lists of books and graphic novels that have spun the wheels of my brain towards bliss and emotional satisfaction. They have inspired me, made me laugh, cry, scream, and wish I could write as well as they do. I aspire to their greatness. I will update these lists and soon I'll add some writing books that have helped me shape my craft.

Finally, down at the bottom, is very little about me.

Again, let me reiterate I am no expert (on anything), but I want to share what does and doesn't work for me and I hope that it helps you if you're just starting out. Or, if you've been doing this as long as I have you'll recognize my genius and wonder why I'm not published (kidding). I just want to have fun and get the creative notions out of my head and onto paper. It's cathartic to let it all pour out into the world, even if no one else reads it (oh, why won't they read it?). 

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Write part 1

I was thinking of numbering this blog 42 or something in the hopes of fooling the reader into thinking I've cranked out a copious amount of words but for some technical reason the prior 41 blogs have disappeared into the Internet abyss. It reminds me of a senior prank I heard about where the students of a high school bought 3 pigs, numbered them 1, 2, and 4, then released those poor swines into the halls. The administration spent the entire day looking for piglet number 3. Genius.

Anyway, I want this blog to be about my process and what I've learned along the way. I don't pretend to be anything other than another person who feels compelled to tell a story on paper. I'm not published (actually, Textbroker paid me for a little paragraph about life insurance, so technically I am a professional writer) so this isn't a success story...yet.

I've been writing creatively since I was 18 years old, that's 30 years now. My early attempts at poetry and storytelling were less than engaging and I believe that's because I wasn't a big reader at the time. But eventually I became a voracious bookworm, tearing through the classics like The Three Musketeers, On the Road, Great Expectations, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and many others. I read John Irving's entire library and dove into Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Phillip Roth, Graham Greene, Ken Follett, JD Salinger, Ernest Hemingway, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Douglas Copeland, Michael Crichton, and Thomas Hardy, wishing to swim with these literary giants.

I switched majors in college from Architecture (I wasn't doing so hot in my construction classes, so you should be thankful you don't live or work in a building I designed, which, because of the math involved, might be crumbling down around you) to English Literature. My love of reading propelled me to a degree I am very proud of holding. It's pretty much worthless in the job market, unless you want to teach or go to graduate school (I had zero inclination to do either), and I managed to find work as a manager while writing early in the morning or late at night. I took writing classes, read how-to books from the Writer's Digest canon, subscribed to Writer's Digest magazine all in hopes of becoming the next Jay McInerney or Bret Easton Ellis. (sigh) Rejection letter after rejection letter followed for my short stories and poetry, and deservedly so. They were bad. But here's the thing: the more you write (and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite) and the more you read, the better you get. My craft has gotten better, I've found my voice, and that's a profound feeling of accomplishment.

In the 1990's I had an idea that I knew would be a blockbuster of a movie and I set out to teach myself how to write screenplays, something I really enjoyed doing (the learning of and the writing of). I ended up finishing two horrible, excruciating, unproducible films that will never be developed onto celluloid (they weren't that bad). That's okay because I absorbed so much from the process and I developed useful writing habits while working and raising a family. Set a time everyday to write, whether it's in the morning or evening (I preferred morning) and stick to it. Make it a habit. And write. Put something down on paper, good or bad.

Part two of "I Write" will soon follow.