Final entry from a Big Sur writing retreat – part X

I long…

I long to breathe in my son’s boundless energy – his youth and exuberance about damn near everything, while I still have the chance.

I long to walk in England and get all giddy on Baker’s Street, to explore the pubs and streets of Ireland, while I still have the chance.

Let me harass the Internal Revenue Service and student loan folks as they have harassed me (crank calls perhaps), while I still have the chance.

The cold shark cage beckons, stories cry out to be written like mewling kittens, the return to alcohol awaits, while I still have the chance.

Most of all, let me learn how to be comfortable in my own skin while that flesh is still mine to control.

I want my children to understand me.

While I still have the chance.


How to avoid spoilers (in curmudgeon)

Like blondes, spoiler alerts have more fun. They’re also stupid.

PS –blondes aren’t really dumb, but I don’t feel like scrounging up a different analogy. And the opening sentence slipped deep inside my head while I was driving, so I wrapped my brain around it. Why waste a good driving thought?

Being an American nerd is easy. These days it’s practically synonymous with just being an American. There are movies, television shows, Youtubers, video games, card games, print books, comic books, t-shirts, mugs, USB drives, bloggers, dumb window decals, letter openers, “collectible” toys, underwear, lunch boxes, trade paperback comic collections, television shows, Netflix shows and much more. Being a jock, which used to be easy, is probably the new “geek,” but nerds are still easier targets for bullying because of their lack of muscles. And these days the jocks wear Star Wars shirts, which to this day stirs up a weird gag reflex in me.

And being an American nerd is big business, as the merchandise description above indicates. So of course people with an inclination to write are tripping over each other’s wireless keyboards to produce millennial-friendly content we will all want to click. That race can mean more demanding, sexier content too. Roughly translated: “Let’s ruin the plot of every film and TV show months before you actually see it.” Let’s overkill it all in the shallowest way possible. Let’s make a big deal of something that’s not a big deal (much like this post).

Salivating as we do for every fresh nugget from the set of the new Avengers, Star Wars, or Game of Thrones; we click on it, thinking it won’t salt the wound. But it does. It hurts. If the film is fresh air, spoilers are pollution. And these days, spoilers are everywhere. In the rush to make us click their article over someone else’s, those spoilers are starting to surface in the headlines – often mere hours after the film or television show has gone public. And we read them because we love the nerd stuff.

I devoured those articles, thinking it wouldn’t kill my thrill, but I learned the opposite occurs. I watched Game of Thrones and Captain America: Civil War, as well as others, and came away hardly amused. They were okay, I thought. Then I realized I would have gotten way more excited had I not known everything that was going to happen before it happened. I’m such an idiot.

Rather than me saying, “Please take it easy on spilling big reveals when you write about things. Write like you work for Starlog or something,” and getting nothing but trolled as a response, I figured out a better way. I simply don’t read the articles anymore.

Stay off social media until you’ve seen it, hide or unfriend the entertainment sites you once frequented, and you may find you’ll enjoy the experience of the nerd much more. It’s an easy fix and may cause writers and entertainment sites to rethink how they deliver the goods, rather like training an algorithm.

Being like a blonde, it took me WAY too long to figure that out.

And maybe, but not likely, I’ll read more New York Times instead of Cinema Blend.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part IX

The smell of stale cigarettes and cold coffee filled the hot Buick Park Avenue. Its air conditioner died a year ago. I was grateful for the bit of breeze I felt on my face when I climbed from the driver’s seat. Covering a jumper on Midgley Bridge wasn’t how I wanted to start the morning of my vacation to San Diego. The jumper wasn’t happy about it either.

I wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there, but instead I approached Commander Ron and the fat motorcycle cop that hated me. I could smell junipers in the air and knew there’d be sneezing later. It was already 95 and not even 9:30 in the morning. The stink of hot asphalt crawled up my nostrils the second I stepped onto the bridge. The road over the bridge was closed due to the suicide, but was expected reopen once they removed the body. That was part of the reason I was there, to let the local know when they wouldn’t have to sit in hot traffic any more. I walked along the road snapping photos with the work camera I carried slung over my shoulder most of the time. I took pictures of the cops reporting to Commander Ron.

“Is the body still here?” I asked him.

He gestured over the edge of the bridge. “No. See?”

I peered over, expecting to see a bit of distant blood on the rocks and was surprised by the body itself – not so far away as I would have liked either. An old man. He’d landed like a rag doll after stepping up and over the railing. I could hear the two cops laughing as I jerked back my head in disgust.

Giggling, the fat cop asked, “Is that your first body, man?” He so hoped it was.

Birds chirped overhead while Commander Ron talked about the old man’s wife. She reported his intentions to the police minutes before he jumped. He’d been diagnosed with something expensive and didn’t want to burden her with the bills. Sucks to be poor.

San Diego wouldn’t be as fun as I’d hoped. I saw the old man every time I closed my eyes.

An open letter on open letters (in curmudgeon)


Dear Open Letter Writer,

We all care so much about your opinion. We want your open letter so bad.  Please write it as long as possible, as passionately as possible, and tell us all how you feel. Of course we know you have no real connection to the topic, no stake, but don’t let that get in the way of adding to the conversation.

It’s an important topic, so make it noisy. Blur the lines of discussion, add your own story to the mix whether it’s only partially similar to the topic, whether anyone asked for you to chime in or not. We promise to hang on every word of your open letter as if we needed only your voice to make the discussion saltier.

Your open letter isn’t going to make us think you’re riding on the coattails of a trending topic. It’s going to make us want to know more about you. It might make us sad for you. It might make us nod our heads in approval, and if your instincts are right, it might even make us want to share it. So write it. Please write it. Your experience is just what we need right now while the discussion is slow, but do it before the news cycles on to the next trend. There’s nothing worse than starting an open letter and abandoning it in favor of a different open letter.

Every random thought and unimportant detail, written by way of abusive and uninformed language, should be in there. We know you know how to write like that. We all do, at least those of us on social media know. Share your personal story and school us on how it’s similar to the trending political topic of the day. Explain how your court experience, your arrest, and your violent crime is just like the one in the news. Make it seem like there are no differences. Make it seem like you know those involved in the topic intimately and we will believe every word. Do whatever it takes. It might be difficult since you aren’t involved, and your opinion wasn’t solicited, but we don’t care. We so don’t care.

We need your opinion. It makes all the difference. Really.

A road trip gauged on karate chopping

How the drive from Monterey to Cottonwood and back again might go for you

There was a beat up pickup truck, larger than average, with a flatbed area surrounded by wooden fencing made of paint chips and splinters. The bed was full of sheep. They were pressed against the wood, but not making a sound. Had I not looked up while pumping gas, I wouldn’t have seen them at all. Not even a smell preceded their arrival. And they had no idea how old that wooden fence looked. I probably could have karate chopped it to pieces without trying hard.

Tehachapi also hosted the scrawny woman with the mousy brown hair and burgundy corduroy pants. She approached our table during a short food break to give us a religious book, then asked if my son and I wanted to pray with her. Probably could have karate chopped her pretty easily. She didn’t order anything.

Barstow, driven through on the way to Arizona and slept in on the way back from Arizona, held terrors to chill the very soul. From expensive gas stations and herky-jerky stop lights, to the denizens on their bicycles who hang out in a few of the motel’s parking lots wearing very little (it was past 100 degrees at 11 p.m.) with their tattoos and desperation on view for the road weary to witness. What they did wear looked like it had been new back when Cindy Crawford still made movies. My sleepy, caffeine-fueled karate chops would have confused them at first, but then they would have kicked my ass and stole my stuff.

How can you Bruce Lee a heatwave? Mentally it’s possible. Especially from inside a car. With an air conditioner turned so on it’s like love. But that heat kills everything. My dreams of a life without becoming a crabby curmudgeon left a stain on Route 66 when it melted there years ago. But mentally, I totally kicked that 109 degree temp’s ass.

In Paso Robles, there’s always a guy who only has enough money for a soda and sits in the restaurant adorned in torn clothes he probably got from the bicycle-riding crowd in Barstow, because it was always too hot there for them to need it. That guy sits in a booth and sizes up the customers when they walk in. He makes uncomfortable eye contact. He karate chopped with his eyes and I karate chopped back. I could be him after all. I could make those who see me uncomfortable. But I don’t.

And now my eye lids are karate chopping my cheeks. And my cheeks keep karate chopping them open again. And I miss the quiet sheep.

From a Big Sur writing retreat part VIII

24 moments that shaped my life 

Kerouac and I in 2011.

Some day I hope to write about these things, if I haven’t already.

1. The moment she whispered in my ear

2. The moment I heard the gunshot

3. The moment the phone rang at 3 a.m.

4. The moment the nurse tried to leave with my newborn son

5. The moment the doctor said it was life threatening

6. The moment I heard I was a father

7. The moment all the anglefish turned sideways

8. The moment I first saw the foreclosure sign

9. The moment I could breathe again

10. The moment I saw a kitten born

11. The moment when the pizza is put on the table

12. The moment I was tripped in the hallway

13. The moment I tried to breakdance

14. The moment she made me cry

15. The moment when I realized sex was fun

16. The moment I saw the body

17. The moment the Obamas came out of Air Force One

18. The moment when my son tells me he loves me

19. The moment we saw the burglars in the house

20. The moment I froze in front of the headlights

21. The moment my daughter sends me a story

22. The moment I had to put Kerouac down

23. The moment I first had bread pudding

24. The moment when algebra made me sweat