Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Those Defining Moments

A writer friend of mine said we have three or four defining moments in our lives and they heavily influence who we are and the lives we lead.

I've been thinking about this a lot.  And I have come to realize that one of the most defining moments of my life was really a period from my childhood.

People are always giving me shit for writing horror.  They wonder why I make morbid comments, laugh about terrible things and feel totally comfortable in darkness.  I live inside my head and speak very little.  In fact, when I'm not at work, I can go days without even using my vocal chords.

I leave my apartment only when I absolutely have to and even then, it's straight there and straight back.  I purposefully choose basement apartments with small windows.

I isolate.

That is my comfort zone.

But it wasn't always like that.  When I was a kid, my first job was newspaper delivery boy for the Sterling-Rock Falls Daily Gazette.  The route originally belonged to Jeff Corwell, an older boy across the street, who I think got it from his older brother years before.  I looked up to Jeff and wanted to be just like him.  For a while, he was like an older brother.  Jeff was getting rid of the route so he could play football and wrestle.  My dad decided it was time I started to earn some money.

My first day was in the last week of the Second Grade.  I was so young, my dad had to agree to walk the route with me.  He did walk it with me for about two months, but then he got bored with it, so I was on my own from then.

I later found out the reason so many of the older businessmen would be standing outside waiting for me was because they were watching out for me.  They later told me how I was way too young to have that route by myself and they thought my dad was wrong.  

It was a good route.  I lived on the street and would walk up one side, then down the other.  About two miles total.  Seventy-three or so customers.

I had some really great people on my route.  Doctors, lawyers, businessmen, engineers, accountants.  Some of the best houses in Sterling were there.

But there were some really bad folks, too.  And I saw a lot of things no child should ever have to see.  I saw them more often than was healthy and I wasn't old enough to understand any of it.  

There was a man on my route everybody called Santa Clause because they didn't know Mr. McSorely's name.  He was old, bald and had a huge white beard.  Every time I delivered to his house, it smelled like sauerkraut.  I think he was a retired corrections officer or something.

Anyways, about three months into my new job, he chatted with me.  He told me about how he prayed every night that God would kill him because he didn't want to live anymore.  He pointed out his liver spots, told me about how he couldn't be with a woman and how lonely he was.  He cried.

Keep in mind, I really thought he might be Santa, because I was six years old and still believed in that stuff.

When you walk up to somebody's house, you never know what you'll catch them in the middle of doing.  I've walked up on people having sex in their enclosed front porch on numerous occasions.  One of the rules I was told by my dad was I had to walk up to their doors and put the paper in a safe spot so it wouldn't get blown away or wet.  He wouldn't allow me to use rubber bands at first.  I did later anyways. 

This meant I was walking right up to people's front doors.

In that time, I saw all manner of domestic strife.  It wasn't the first time.  While my dad never beat up my mom or anything like that, I did watch the baby sitter beat up her husband with a vacuum hose as he tumbled down the stairs.  I was sitting on steps that lead to the stairs and I remember very clearly putting my head down and covering my eyes.  I think I was about three years old at the time.  I remember being terrified.

But when I went to some of these houses, I saw men hitting their wives.  I saw a woman get drunk and fall down while her husband kicked her.  I saw all manner of arguments, verbal attacks and emotional abuse.

I even once walked up to a house while the couple were doing a BDSM scene.  I thought it was rape, or something similar.  He was shouting at her, "You're gonna suck it, bitch!"
She cried and kept saying, "I don't wanna!"
I heard slapping.  It was only until much later I realized they were playing a game.  

This is where I learned not to talk.  Somehow in all of this, I learned to simply not say anything and not talk about what I saw.  I withdrew from everybody.

As I got older, I knew more about what I was seeing.  I learned to enjoy the nakedness a few of the women willingly showed me.  I remember one women in shorts was husking corn while sitting on the steps on a hot day and when I delivered her paper, she spread her legs to show me a very thick patch of hair.  She smiled at me, I smiled back and gave her a "thumbs up" before going back to my route.

That was about 33 years ago and this is the first time I've told anybody.

I saw a lot of nudity.  Some accidental, some not so much.  Growing up in an extremely conservative Catholic family, and living in small-town Midwest, such things were unheard of.

Because a lot of these old houses had big picture windows, and for some reason everybody puts a couch in front of the big picture window, I saw a lot of sex.  A ton of it, really.  I even saw Jeff with a girl once.  

There was a married, but obviously bored, housewife on my route who used to tease me.  She would tell me about her nipples and how she thought they were perfect.  She would tell me about how soft her skin was, and really drove me nuts.  This went on for about a month until I asked to see them.  I made it sound like I totally didn't believe her.  She walked up to me slowly, never breaking eye contact, then slipped one out of her bra for a few seconds, then back in.  All the while, she looked at me closely and at my reactions.  After she put it back in, she smiled thinly and said, "have a nice day."  We never spoke again.  When I delivered her papers she was always busy.  She wouldn't even look at me and I thought I had done something wrong.

I was convinced, for years, that my reactions were wrong and that's why she rejected me.  And since those reactions were involuntary, then something was wrong with me.  Logically, the less I react, then the less people would know something was wrong with me.

This is how I thought of myself when I was in the Fifth Grade.  Something was wrong with me on a deep level so the less I spoke or reacted, the harder time you'll have seeing that. 

When I was in the Fifth Grade, I was able to save up my money to buy a set of radio headphones.  they were big, bulky and went through batteries very quickly.  I only got a couple of stations with them, which was fine, because back then we all listened to WLS out of Chicago.  They were the only ones that played music.

It was my way to tune out the world.  I didn't have to hear people fighting, or insulting each other, or any of that mess.

This didn't stop the insanity.  I once had a married couple, while sitting on their front porch drunk, tell me about their sex life.  In detail, too.  I even understood some of it because I was about ten at the time.  That was when I learned what a G-spot was. 

One of the nicer aspects were the dogs.  Some houses had dogs and they loved me.  I'm a dog person anyways.  Sometimes, people left their dogs outside alone, and when I delivered the paper I would sit and pet the dogs.  I had grown really attached to a few of them.  Sometimes I bought a box of dog treats and would take a couple with me, or I'd sneak a bone from dinner the night before.  I was really attached to some of these dogs.

One family had this small dog that was just a sweetheart.  She and I would play and all kinds of stuff.  They neglected her.  I brought her bones, a toy and sometimes I put water in her dish during the summer.  During a harsh winter, they left her outside and she froze to death.  I thought it was my fault and I cried the whole way home, saying how sorry I was to her because I let her die.  It was my fault, I knew, because I didn't do anything.  When I got home, I covered up by saying it was really cold outside and that's why my eyes were watery. 

I saw car accidents.  Lots of them, really.  Locust Street is Illinois 40, so it's busy.  Usually just minor fender-benders.  I saw so many of them the local police knew my name and would ask me what I saw.

There was one I saw that was horrific and happened right in front of my house at the corner of Locust & 10th street on a nice Saturday afternoon.  An old man had a heart attack and crossed the center line.  He hit, head-on, a very large old barge of a car and careened into somebody's yard.  The woman got out and began to scream in this awful voice I can still hear to this day, "My baby!  My baby!"  Sure enough, she had an infant with her and back then, nobody used car seats.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't the best kid in the world.  The darkness had taken root and was spreading.  I did some ugly things.  

There was an apartment building with about six units and it was full of functionally disabled people.  I'm not sure what the proper term for it is in today's lingo, but back then we just said they were retards that paid their own bills.  Most of them worked odd jobs and got a check from the government.

But they drank beer, too.  And when I was in the Fifth Grade, I learned I could slip them a couple of extra bucks and they'd buy me a six-pack.  I used to drink beer while doing my route.  I came home buzzed a few times and nobody noticed.  On Friday nights, I would go over there and they'd buy me beer so I could share with my friend.  (I only had one, I was a loner back then, too.)

In that apartment building, there was an old man who would let me look at his porn magazines.  They were wretched things full of ugly women doing nasty stuff.  But when you're in the Fifth Grade, it's the best shit in the world.  It was fun until he the old man asked me if I wanted to see the real thing and to go upstairs with him.  That ended the fun right there.  I never saw him again.  He moved out the next week.  

But there is something else I need to say.  There is one more story I need to tell about this period.

Johnny Gosch. 

He was a newspaper boy like myself.  In fact, if you look at a picture of Johnny next to a picture of myself from the same period, we look like brothers.  But there's more to it.

Back during this period of time, I remember having a very hard time.  I was constantly anxious during my route.  I would have terrible stomach pains when I got home from school and my mom would have to do my route.  I would almost run between houses and sometimes just randomly knock on people's doors and make up some excuse about their delivery service.

I was scared.  I don't know why.  I just felt something bad.  So, I kept moving, kept seen, hid when I needed to.

My mom was about to strangle me for all the times I would come home too sick to do my route.  She would come home from working at a factory and have to deal with this nonsense.

And the pain was intense.  It felt like I was being stabbed from the inside.  But as soon as the route was done, it went away.  And I was too young and not smart enough to piece things together.

So at the same time, Johnny Gosch was abducted from his paper route, just a few miles from me.  After a couple months of this, the pain went away and I no longer felt scared or anxious.  But Johnny was gone.

I had never met him, but I think about him a lot.  I have a few theories about this.

First, maybe my reactions were what many animals feel when a predator is near.  All manner of mammal and fish react a certain way when something dangerous is close by.  Maybe I saw somebody look at me funny and a survival instinct in my brain picked up on it.  That would explain my actions without knowing what they meant.  This would also mean I saw the evil bastards who did that to him and they were looking at me. 

Second, maybe it was something else.  Maybe a guardian angel or spirit was watching out for me.  Maybe they knew what was happening so they whispered in my ear or screamed in my brain.

Sometimes I feel guilty about Johnny.  But then again, I blame myself for a lot of things I had no control over.  It's what those of us who live inside our heads often do.  I didn't make those evil bastards choose him, I just made it harder for them to grab me.

And I know I'm so very fucking lucky. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Shitty Parts of Speech

I love the English language.  Being a native speaker is like belonging to some exclusive club that all the other jerks of the world have to aspire towards.  The peasants and low-born spend years in school and watch our movies closely just so they can communicate with me.  It's amazing how many years of education they need to have just so they understand me when I tell them, "Take the piss bucket outside--it smells terrible!" 

Sadly, even being born in America doesn't mean you automatically speak English well enough to be understood.  On an almost daily basis I encounter people who speak as if they had a large melon dropped on their heads from a great height.  Or worse, they have something in their mouths that prevents them from being understood. 

Being the kind-hearted person I am, I have taken it upon myself to post a little grammar information.  After all, I'm just here to help. 

I will also say my grammatical skills are terrible.   I have never been good with grammar and even in college I had a terrible time diagramming sentences.  The professor spent his time with me in private lessons trying to help to no avail.  I am constantly screwing up my apostrophes and commas.  My grammar makes proofreaders laugh. 

But there has to be a line. 

So, today's blog is about understanding the various usages of the word "shit" and how it fits into various parts of speech. 

Shit is important.  Shit is necessary.  Our world would not function without shit. 

How many times in a day do you say the word "shit"?  Personally, I know for a fact, I say it at least a dozen times every single day.  Sometimes I say it as soon as I get out of bed. 

I love this word. 

So, let's get started!  First, we have "shit" as a noun.  There are many uses and forms it can take. 

The farmer has shit on his boots.  Just a simple sentence where "shit" is a noun. 

After my first cup of coffee in the morning, I have the shits.  In this form, the word "the" always precedes "shit". 

I don't want to hear your shit!  Here, the noun for "lies and deception" is replaced by "shit". 

You're a liar and a shit!  This was one of my grandmother's favorite sayings and I used it whenever I can.  I miss my grandma dearly sometimes.  Except for those times when she would get drunk and call me a liar and a shit. 

I always get my Roxy from D-bo because he always has the good shit.  The nouns for narcotics and other various drugs can always be substituted with "shit". 

I hate having Big Hungry over at my place because he eats all my shit.  Here, the noun for "food" is replaced with "shit".  I knew a guy everybody called Big Hungry because he would come over and eat all your shit.  He would walk into your place and go right to the cupboards, go through your shit and just start eating.  

Get that shit out of my yard!  The final noun usage is for when you replaced the word "trash" or "garbage" with "shit".  You can also use it for just about any object you don't like.  As in, Get that shit off my car! 

Shit can be used as an intransitive verb, too. 

Shit!  Not as an exclamation, but more like a command.  I used to tell this to my dog when I had to take him outside and it was raining.  Who wants to stand around in that shit?  So, while he was sniffing around and looking for shit, I'd tell him to shit. 

I can't shit here.  After a long day of usage, the bathrooms at work are nasty, and sitting down to re-enact 60 Seconds Over Tokyo is simply out of the question.  Some folks can only shit at home. 

Good morning, time to shit!  There's that first cup of coffee again. 

Why does it smell bad in here?  I shat!  Remember, folks--the past-tense of "shit" is "shat". 

We can also use "shit" for transitive verbs.  We need an object, or thing, with our verb.  Verbs are about doing. 

I called my cable company and the sales rep kept shitting me.  As a telemarketer, I do this a lot.  Daily, even.  I'm paid to shit people.  Shitting is my business, and business is good! 

Another NFL player was arrested for a violent offense?  You're shitting me!  The verb form is synonymous with deception. 

I shit that nasty chilli all night long.  This is also why you eat ice cream after a spicy meal.  This way, you have something to cheer for and you can say, "Come on, ice cream!" 

I can't drink PBR, it makes me shit my brains out.  An understandable reaction to bad beer. 

Perhaps my favorite usage of "shit" is an interjection.  I mean, shit--who doesn't have those moments? 

Well, folks--I hope this shit I'm shitting out on my shitty little blog is giving you the good shit so you can go about your shitty day shitting the shitheads you see along your way and shit. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Peanut Butter on My Trout

Somebody keeps putting peanut butter on my trout and it's pissing me off.

Let me explain.

One of my favorite scenes from the sit-com 3rd Rock From the Sun was when Dick and Harry were walking in the woods.  Dick had a jar of peanut butter and Harry had a trout.  The bit was a parody of the old Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercials from the 70's.  

The audio clip is from the show.  

This is the problem with my writing as of late.  I can't keep anything pure. 

The horror makes people laugh.  The humor makes people cringe.  And the last time I tried to write a sex scene an Anatomy prof in some college used it on an exam.  He took out a few words and the Pre-Med students had to fill-in the blanks. 

Now I'm working on a couple of projects that embrace that lack of purity.  I'm not happy about it.  I want the horror to bother people and the comedy to make people laugh.  What's so hard about that? 

Instead, I have a story in submission to Infernal Ink about a unicorn that shits gold.  I also have a short story in submission to Untied Shoelaces of the Mind under thriller/crime because I just couldn't figure out where else to put it.  It wasn't scary enough and it wasn't funny. 

And I still can't find a place for my necrophilia romantic comedy.  The places that do romantic comedies don't want to even hear about necrophilia.  One editor, who didn't put in the guidelines that he wasn't accepting necro stories, now has a little blurb that says, "I thought it went without saying we weren't interested in necrophilia stories, but apparently somebody needed to be told." 

That was me.  Sorry. 

It's hard having peanut butter on my trout.  Or trout in my peanut butter.  Frankly, I like them both, just not together.

I'm currently doing what can only be described as a fan fiction piece for a group of friends on a comedy writing forum.  It's turned into this meta fiction piece that resembles a collaborative effort with Mel Brooks, Hunter S. Thompson and M.R. James.  And it's so meta that nobody can understand it.  It's like a subjective look at an acid trip.

So yes, I have peanut butter on my trout.  I'm writing extremely dark comedy, humorous horror and the occasional dark romance piece.   My goal for this weekend is to make some progress on a couple of things and get another couple of short stories submitted out because that's the only way I can keep what's left of my sanity. 


Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review: Miss Perigrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I have recently finished reading this book and I must say, I'm thoroughly glad I did. 

Funny story, I'd heard that Tim Burton was going to direct the film for this novel, and so I decided to check it out.  But, being as broke as I am, I figured I'd have to wait until it was on special at Amazon for my Kindle.  A woman I work with happened to have it at her desk and loaned it to me. 

I will say this book is YA (young adult) but it doesn't matter--it's damn good and worth reading.  Ransom Riggs weaves a wonderfully dark tale about an orphanage and a remote island with a series of black and white photos.  The photos make it all the more delightful. 

There are a lot of elements this book does right.  The child who is seeking answers to his family's past, the remote island and the sense of being special.  This book avoids many of the stereotypical traps and tropes while navigating others brilliantly.

There is a certain magic about this book that makes it delightful to read yet too dark to discount as fantasy.  And there were plot twists I expected to happen that never did, which really made the book even more enjoyable.

The story is tightly written and tense, and there are some genuinely touching moments that made a person feel sad for these special children.

I hope everybody gets a chance to read this.  It's one of those rare stories that come out where it's dark yet woven with beauty throughout.