The Night I Woke Up (Part 2)

[The point here is to write a story about something that happened to me a very long time ago. I started it last week not knowing where it would go or how long it would take to get there. Let’s all find out together, shall we?]

While living in the limbo of preadolescence, all things appear alien to a boy. To this boy they did, anyway. At the same time, the world of fantasy becomes increasingly attractive since the one he’s living in grows increasingly hostile. The sense of estrangement from all things familiar is thoroughly disorienting. Nighttime only intensifies the resulting wonder and fear.

Today, waking up from a deep sleep is a nightly occurrence. At least. In those early days, sleep was a jailer to whom I was willingly incarcerated. A raucous day in the Florida sunshine made sleep that much heavier. How to explain, then, awakening to nothing in the blackness of the night? Perhaps I’d consumed too much Coke or lemonade to relieve the oppressive Florida heat and humidity. The pressure on my bladder attested to that possibility.

In the surrounding darkness and unfamiliar environs, inertia and fear battled nature’s urges. For a few moments, I was able to hold back the dam and, there being nothing to see, I listened to the sounds of night in the swampy neighborhood.

In complete darkness and with no one stirring in my aunt’s house, I was surprised to hear, not silence, but a near deafening din. All manner of creature filled the sonic vacuum left by sleeping humans: frogs, insects, wild and domestic beasts. Low murmurs, high-pitched screeches, and everything in between created a symphony of the unknown to my immature ears and overdeveloped imagination.

I was in no hurry to leave the safe confines of the bed, but my bladder had other ideas.

With stealth befitting a more perilous predicament, I slipped out of the room and along the length (maybe seven feet) of hallway to the only bathroom in the cramped ranch house. What’s the first thing to do when one finds oneself in a dark bathroom, preparing to do one’s business? Turn on the light, of course.

Bad idea.

Imagine yourself under a spotlight on a stage in a coal-black hall with innumerable… somethings you can’t see watching you. That was me. The world was black and I was immersed in glaring brightness to which my eyes had yet to acclimate. I’ve never, before or since, felt so vulnerable. I was in a cube of light in a world of dark. The single window in the bathroom shone like a beacon out to the unknown outside.

It was unnerving to a boy who had no idea what it meant to be unnerved. My consuming thought was to finish what I went in there for and get out as soon as possible. My fear, unfortunately, inhibited the process, forcing me to stand exposed. The task took far longer than it normally would but I finally finished.

It was at that precise moment that I heard the first of the footsteps. From outside.

To be continued…

Script Reading On Again!

M4Y-SRposterThe staged reading I wrote a post about several weeks ago that was cancelled a few weeks after that is on again. This time for sure. I’ve rescheduled it for Saturday, June 13. Other than a couple of minor changes: the date and the benefactor, it’s the same event. Read all about it HERE.

Please consider coming out and supporting me and the MS Society. It’s entertainment with a purpose. Win win. You can’t do better than that.

The Night I Woke Up (part 1)

Memory plays more tricks on us than Penn & Teller combined. After the passage of enough time, it becomes as unreliable as a Ford Pinto. And sometimes, just as dangerous. The following is a true story to the best of my addled recollection. The fact that it occurred many decades ago only increases its allure of mystery even as it decreases its credibility.

For reasons that elude me to this day, every few years my parents wedged us all into the family station wagon and made the long drive to Florida to visit my aunt. I can’t even begin to imagine how my mother and father survived those trips. Why would anyone, of their own free will, drive more than 1,000 miles over two interminable days with three sons who probably hastened the need for the ADHD diagnosis? We bounced around that vehicle’s back and way-back like electrons on amphetamines.

Our road trips came before the days of portable entertainment devices and we were too restless for passive activities such as books or radio. Our primary means of passing the time was incessantly attacking one another then appealing to Mom or Dad for justice that was as futile as the discipline they tried to impose. Another diversion was reading the countless “South of the Border” signs (“Pedro’s Weather Report: Chili Today, Hot Tamale”), which seemed to us to stretch from Connecticut to the resort’s South Carolina location.

We usually split the trip into two supposedly more manageable segments by spending a night in the cheapest, i.e. sleaziest, motel in North Carolina. (If you think sleazy, motel, and North Carolina is a redundancy, you’re not far off the mark. One of those joints could justify a story in itself. More than likely, it will.) By the time we staggered into my aunt’s house, we were in need of sleep and therapy.

This was called a “vacation”.

My aunt was widowed before I was conscious of such fundamental matters as death. To my prepubescent mind, she was just an old woman to whom I was somehow related. My innate ignorance of anything outside my proper skin excluded any need or desire to understand that she was my father’s sister. It didn’t occur to my self-absorbed state that my father had parents, never mind brothers or sisters.

The old girl had been alone for as long as I could remember. She dealt with her solitude by engaging in a series of polygamous – but purely platonic – canine and feline relationships. We had never encountered an adult who was anything like her. She was as uninhibited as she was eccentric. None of the descriptors for “grown up” applied to her. More appropriate labels were boisterous, spontaneous, and extravagantly loving. And, of course, we adored her for it all.

A stay at my aunt’s was a treat for us boys. Besides goofing around with her, it also meant long days at the beach, exploring the most unappetizing dining establishments on the east coast of Florida, staying up late, playing with the pets du jour, and lots of yelling. The reason for the increased volume is that, in addition to her many other virtues, she was almost completely stone deaf. We had to use our “outdoor voices” to have any hope of being heard.

Thus we spent many fun and carefree days. Nights, on the other hand, were less pleasant. The good news is that we slept through them. Most of them.

This is the story of The Night I Woke Up.

To be continued…

Read or write… or write?

Inspired by a discussion with a fellow writer earlier today, I’m trying to figure out how to do it all.

I’m told that great writers read a lot. Writers also have to write a lot. Whether this is true is, of course, a matter of conjecture.

What isn’t conjecture is that there are only so many hours in a day – 24, by most reckoning – as well as days in a lifetime. In other words, there are boundaries. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that you can’t do everything. Believe me, I’ve tried. Now you don’t have to because I’ve told you and I wouldn’t lie.

Plus, I’m writing this blog.

On top of all that reading and writing (thankfully no ‘rithmetic), there’s life. Life takes up all my time. Even weekends. As one of my heroes wrote, we all have dots we’re committed to connect: pay bills, keep in touch with friends and family, exercise, go to the bathroom, feed ourselves, return calls, clean the house, buy Stuff, fix Stuff, store Stuff, throw away Stuff, pay taxes, fill the gas tank, balance the checkbook. You get it. Somewhere in there we need to pull back and recharge, too.

That list looks really important when it’s staring me down. Like most people, I generally submit to the Tyranny of the Urgent. Everything else – writing included – gets pushed down until it decomposes into compost, stinky and filthy but suitable for planting seeds, one would hope.

So when do I get the real Writing done?


Memories of memoirs

For no discernible reason, seven of the last fourteen books I’ve read have been memoirs.  This wasn’t planned. Some were chosen during a flash of inspiration, others coincidentally rose to the top of stack around the same time after many months in waiting. I’m not even necessarily a big fan of memoirs.

Four of the seven books were by people who are renowned in some area of the arts in which I take a special interest: three were writers and one was a performer.

A number of similarities arose in these books.

  • Each attributed much of their success to luck, yet had no problem taking credit for it just the same. (In his book, “Outliers”, Malcom Gladwell documents many such cases of success coming by being in the right place at the right time through pure serendipity, if you believe in that kind of thing.)
  • Each wrote with a significant sense of entitlement, as if they simply got what they deserved.
  • There was a uniformly distinct lack of humility in tone, even some amount of condescension.
  • None of them had any problem dismissing and rationalizing their personal failings, of which there were many.
  • Without exception, they all went out of their way to disparage religious belief. I wonder what prompts people to be evangelistic about their lack of belief but condemn those who proselytize a genuine faith?
  • All at times sounded like spoiled children who whined when things didn’t go their way or when something was missing from their privileged lives.

Regarding that last point, it amazes me that the more we have (and these folks have lots) the more we take it for granted. It’s not just the Rich and Famous. After all, by the world’s standards, I’m obscenely wealthy. From my observations in the time I’ve spent in Haiti, people there are more thankful for the little they have than we are for our abundance. And they readily acknowledge God as the source of their few blessings. Gratitude and faith are among the first victims of the pandemic of Affluenza.

I don’t criticize out of spite or envy. I’m just making observations. The four books are the works of brilliant minds, people whose work I have tremendous respect for. Perhaps these kinds of personality traits are helpful in reaching heights of fame and/or creativity.

Every one of us exhibits some or all of these tendencies at one time or another.

We just don’t publish them for the world to see.


[In the interest of fair and balanced reporting, I should note that a memoir I read last year, “As you wish – Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride” by Cary Elwes showed very little of these characteristics. It was terrific, as I reported in a previous post.]