The All American Motel

Over two years ago, I wrote a post that was the first installment of a five-part short story. The story, “The Night I Woke Up”, described a vague remembrance from a childhood vacation. A few paragraphs into the tale, I briefly mentioned another memory from the same trip. That recollection might have contributed to an undercurrent of dread during that time of my life.

Here’s a snippet from that post:

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.)

Well, it’s been a couple of years, but that joint, as implied, is about to have its very own post.

The motel in question was called “The All American Motel”. How much more promising could it be? We were an all-American family traveling in an all-American car (a Rambler, believe it or not) down the all-American east coast. The sun had set and we were well beyond exhausted and agitated from driving with three boys and their parents crammed into a vehicle for several hours. It was either stop and crash or continue on and, more than likely, crash.

In the darkness, the All American looked like the place to be. A full parking lot, a swimming pool, and all American. (My impression of what constitutes “all American” has changed since then, not in a positive direction.) What more could we ask for? We registered. We went to the room.

Not good.

There’s a reason motels have pretty much fallen out of favor in this country. They were never big on cleanliness or security. The All American set a new substandard for both. This place was disgusting. Putrescence was the decor of choice. The carpet had the consistency of Play-Doh, but stickier. The bathroom—I don’t even want to remember the bathroom. It might have had cockroaches, but if not, it was only because even the cockroaches have limits. Random lagoons of standing water probably bred entire civilizations of toxins. They should have dispensed antibiotics with every stay.

That night we went to a nearby restaurant, a dark and dingy steak house with a repulsive name like “Meaty D-Luxe” or such. The only thing I remember clearly from that dump was that the waitress was so creepy—kind of a female Norman Bates—we bolted from the place without even ordering. I’m not sure we ate anything that night. We were all too freaked out.

Back at the All American, we peeled apart the vile sheets and blankets, oozed into the beds, and somehow slept. The prospect of swimming in the pool the next day was the one hopeful thought that kept us kids going.

The All American wasn’t at its best in daylight because, well, you could see the place. The highly anticipated pool was a bust. It contained only about a foot of some kind of gelatinous fluid—it certainly wasn’t water. You wouldn’t have to be Jesus to walk across the surface of the thing.

The parking lot was still full, but…

There was something amiss with the cars. First of all, they were all ancient. No model was from the previous 30 years. Yet they all looked in good shape. That was only because every visible surface, all the metal, chrome, and tires of each vehicle had been freshly painted. The tires, while painted the colors of the cars: blue, red, white, whatever, were all flat. The license plates, also painted, were from decades before our stay. Not a single car in the lot was a real, running car.

Except ours.

We remedied that situation by tearing away as quickly as our little Rambler could ramble. I’m not sure we packed our stuff. We might have left it behind, afraid it was crawling with deadly microscopic life forms unknown to science. Probably whatever they served at the Meaty D-Luxe.

The only redeeming feature of the All American Motel is that it would make a great setting for a horror story. It was for us.

And it is for you now. Sleep well.

Thoughts between the storms of life

Life takes up all my time. Even weekends. That’s why I’m often reduced to dumping collected thoughts into posts just to meet my arbitrary weekly deadlines. Thus, here are some dead lines for this deadline:

Why isn’t postcocious a word, the opposite of precocious? It would apply to those who demonstrate an immaturity beyond (before?) their years. No one I know fits that description… outside of that guy in the mirror.

Whenever I watch a movie on DVD, I have to endure the declaration that “Piracy isn’t a victimless crime”. Tell me about it. I just wasted 10 seconds staring at the message.

I love my library. And I love my librarians. Still, I have to ask, how scientific is “library science”?

How lame is it when the news anchors blame the weather forecaster for bad weather? They don’t blame sportscasters when their teams lose. I hope one day to see the weather guy turn it around. (“Hey, Jim, when are you going to stop this rain and send us some sunshine?” “As soon as you stop all those mass shootings, Mary.”)

There are 2 kinds of people in the world: those who separate people into two groups and those who don’t.

Some say there are 10 kinds of people: those who understand binary and those who don’t.

I wish I had a nickel for every empty bottle or can I see thrown on the side of the road. Wait…

Most house fans I’ve owned turn on at the highest speed. Dumb. That’s like a radio with an on/off dial that starts at the highest volume.

Remember when we worried about privacy? We’ve sacrificed it on the altar of social media. As Keith Lowell Jensen wisely observed, “What Orwell failed to predict [in his book “1984”] was that we’d buy the cameras ourselves, and that our biggest fear would be that nobody was watching.”

I was at a food truck event not long ago and took this picture:

When I blow that picture up (below) you can barely make out a disturbing sight in the background: Yes, that’s a bloodmobile. Evidently, they were expecting vampires at this event.

What’s with all the moving graphics?? Watch news or sports on TV and count the number of moving graphical objects on the screen. My ADD nature causes me to watch them obsessively and miss whatever is going on in the program. One more reason I don’t miss “news” broadcasts.

If You Give a Man a Cell Phone

[With apologies to Laura Numeroff and her whimsical “If you give a <something> to a <something else>” series of children’s books.]

If you give a man a cell phone…

He’ll want a case, a screen protector, a charger, extra cables, SD cards, a bluetooth headset and external speaker, and a pile of other accessories.

With all those accessories, he’ll ask you to give him a man-purse to carry them all.

The man-purse will leaving him questioning his sexuality. In his insecurity, you’ll have to buy him a huge, 4-wheel drive pickup truck with a hemi and a deliberately crippled muffler.

He might find that a large, loud truck isn’t sufficient to compensate for his lack of masculinity, in which case he’ll put a gun rack in the back window of the truck.

If he’s going to have that gun rack, he’ll need a rifle to feel truly macho.

He’ll ask himself, “Why do I have rifle if I’m not going to use it?” and he’ll ask you to take him hunting.

You’re too smart to accompany him, so he’ll go alone to spite you.

When he goes hunting, chances are his rifle will misfire causing him to accidentally shoot himself in the foot.

Alone and bleeding profusely, he’ll crawl back to the truck and try to drive for help.

Loss of blood will cause him to go into shock so he’ll pass out and drive into a tree.

Hitting the tree will trigger the airbag, which will concuss him.

He’ll spend a comatose month in a hospital in a town where no one knows him.

By the time he recovers and returns to his old life, everyone will believe he was dead so he’ll discover…
he lost his job,
his apartment was sub-let,
and his girlfriend has moved in with his former best friend.

The stress of all that loss will drive him to drugs and alcohol. It won’t be pretty.

When you finally get him to admit his addictions, you’ll have to check him into a rehab in northern California.

He’ll fall in love with his nurse who thinks his man-purse is cool.

To support his new laid-back lifestyle, they’ll move to a ranch in rural Montana…

which won’t have cell coverage…

so he’ll need a new cell service…

You’ll have to give him a new cell phone.

[Now all I need is adorable illustrations and I’ll be ready for a copyright infringement suit.]

What a character!

It’s not a revolutionary statement to say everyone is different. It’s made patently obvious simply by looking around. I believe one difference is how we approach our reading. Some concentrate on plot, some on prose, and others on message, with lots of other facets in between and plenty of combinations thereof.

I’m starting to think I’m a character guy. (It’s not just the fact that so many people have said I’m a character. That’s a coincidence. Maybe.) In every novel I read, I seem to be drawn first to its characters. As I wrote before, though I can’t explain why, I care deeply about what happens to these fictional people. It makes no sense, but there it is. If a book’s characters annoy me, there’s a better than even chance I won’t care for it, no matter how well regarded it might be.

It turns out that maybe that characteristic has carried over to my writing. More than one reader has commented on my protagonists, Fania in A Slippery Land and Calandra in A Song in the Storm. (Both are young women. Go figure.) I expect myself to be obsessed with my characters, but it’s a supreme compliment when I hear things like:

I can’t stop thinking about Fania.

Fania is a great role model for my daughter.

I agree, but I have a different perspective. Hopefully, Calandra will have a similar effect on readers.

It’s not just the leads, but even the minor characters get under my skin. That makes the writing and reading so much more fun. And since of necessity I read my own books many, many times in the revision and proofing processes, it’s good to know I’ll be spending time with people, er, characters I care about.

I hope you care as much as I do. But maybe you’re a plot person. Hopefully I’ll have you covered, too.

“A Song in the Storm” is here!

As threatened, er, I mean, promised, my new book is finally available.

The story follows a young woman living in Lucca, Italy, in 1924. Gifted with a magnificent singing voice, she is on the verge of fulfilling her dream of becoming a professional singer. Her dream is crushed when her father tells her she must go to America to marry a man she’s never met. Her odyssey takes her from an ocean crossing, through Ellis Island, to Boston’s North End, with a lot of twists and surprises along the way.

While the story is fictional, it is inspired by the true experience of my grandmother, who was from Italy and lived through a similar situation. It also realistically represents the difficult road traveled by Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, a reality not much different from other ethnic groups before and since.

Click on any of the following links to buy a copy of the paperback or Kindle version:

Amazon

My Amazon author page

CreateSpace store

Kindle version

For some reason, the Kindle version hasn’t been linked to the paperback version. That kind of thing sometimes takes a few days and it might be fixed by the time you read this. In any case, you can get any version you want.

Like my last book, A Slippery Land, this one started as a screenplay. Like that screenplay, this one had received some good notice. One of the most highly respected screenwriting instructors in the world had the following comments about the movie script:

There is so much to like about A SONG IN THE STORM it is hard to know where to begin.

Calandra is exactly who you want your hero to be. She is in a world she is unfamiliar with, searching for her dream while fighting off a life forced upon her.

And the endearing ending you provide just tops the great story off so well. Super job!

I hope you have a chance to read the book and have the same reaction. If you do, let me know what you think. Also, if you read the book, I would greatly appreciate it if you would add a review to Amazon and/or Goodreads.

Thank you for your support of independent authors!

Seeking donations

Don’t you love a straightforward title that tells you all you need to know about whether you want to read a post? Against all conventional marketing wisdom, I’ve used one here. The wiser thing to do would be to entice you to read on by using nonsensical and misleading expressions such as “free food”, “sex”, and “make America great again”.

Not my style.

The bottom line is the bottom line: I’m looking for compassionate people to support the fight against multiple sclerosis, a very personal fight for me. Every year I participate in a fundraising bike ride. Rather than bore you with the details here, I’ll point you to the web pages that will bore you with the details. (I’m a lousy salesman, aren’t I?)

Read more about the ride here.

Donate to my ride here.

Donate to my team here.

That’s it. No wasted time, effort, or keystrokes. Thank you for considering this request.

Coming soon!

A girl with a gift…
…a forced marriage…
…and a favor that will change a family’s history forever.

Coming soon:

A Song in the Storm

Watch this blog for details and availability.

A blessing and a curse

I’ve been told I have a “critical spirit” due to the fact that I find and readily announce flaws in ideas, people, events, places, creative works, and just about everything else. Yes, it’s a curse, mostly to the people around me who must endure my endless bellyaching.†

As with so many other personality defects, this one comes with an upside. My eye for error makes me a ruthless and fastidious editor. It’s a rare book I’ve read that doesn’t have at least one heinous error, typos more often than not. I’m about one-third of the way through a book now and I’ve found two glaring errors already. Other writers sometimes ask me to review their work-in-progress and—whether to their relief or dismay, I can’t be sure—I never fail to come up with plenty of real problems along with a long list of equivocal suggestions based on my personal biases, of which there are many. (My latent OCD tendencies don’t help matters.)

When it comes to my own writing, I’m not so good. I still find plenty of problems after the first, second, and third drafts. That’s another good news/bad news thing. People, including me, tend to be poor editors of their own work, whether it’s the blindness of familiarity or the moral refusal to “kill all our darlings”.

I’ve had no one point out problems in “A Slippery Land” yet, though the little buggers are no doubt in there. We’ll see how it all works out with the next book I’m dangerously close to putting out there. That should happen in just a few weeks. Meanwhile, I have to dive back in and do another fine-tooth-comb review. The proof is in the publishing.


It’s actually not that bad. But it feels that way. Especially to others.


NB: Don’t forget to come to the 8th Annual Trivia and Silent Auction for Servants for Haiti. 

Silly Pictures with Rick

Did anyone notice I blew off last week’s post? I thought not. Here’s what I’ve been up to these days:

  1. Finishing up my second novel, to be entitled “A Song in the Storm”.
  2. Prepping for the annual trivia game to raise money for Haitian entrepreneurs.
  3. Gearing up for my annual bike ride to raise funds to fight MS.

More on all those in later posts. For now, to save more time…

It’s time for Silly Pictures with Rick, the part of the show where Rick shows some silly pictures. (Apologies to Larry the Cucumber.)

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Here’s a deal that only looks good after you’ve had the two drinks.

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CPR: The perfect name for an emergency toilet.

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Living in the past. Cadillac SUV? Playboy??? Does this guy know it’s 2017? Does he care?

The New Colossus of Fear

Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, which adorns the now-obsolete Statue of Liberty has to be replaced. It currently features the following lovely but oh-so-naive sentiment:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

As a replacement, I humbly offer the more appropriate “New Colossus of Fear”:

Not like the wimpy statue that’s so lame,
That oversized chick draped in a green sheet;
Here to protect the cash on Wall Street
A macho man with a gun, whose aim
Will waste the bad hombres, and his name
Tyrant of Fear. From his weapon-hand
Shoots world-wide warning; we’re taking a stand
We’ll blow you back to hell whence you came.
“Keep to yourselves, you strangers all!” barks he
With bared teeth. “I’m tired of your lazy poor,
Your stinking masses with skin not like me,
If you’re here, will throw you out the door.
And to keep you foreigners out, you’ll see,
We’ll build a wall that you’ll pay for!”

It won’t make anyone forget Longfellow (or even Ogden Nash) but you must admit, it accurately captures the new, heinous “normal”.

God have mercy…