"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, June 30, 2013

But what does it all mean?

My last post left a new reader puzzled.

"Who exactly are the people who sit on the edge of the chair of Literature? It seemed like a strange title for a blog about personal takes on politics."

Gentle Reader,

I'm usually not political at all, and tried to make that clear in the last post, but please forgive me for not being clearer. As far as the title, a few years ago, I actually went into great detail explaining how I came up with the title for my blog. You can read it here.

The Writer Who Isn't Often Political, But Is Always Writing

James Thurber remains one of my writing heroes. His sense of humor had a sarcasm and melancholy that has had a lasting appeal to me over the years. I found this animation of one of his more famous "fairy tales" and thought I'd share.

What's not to like?

Friday, June 28, 2013


You know how much I love to write about writing and my family and the general goofiness that makes me laugh. Sometimes, however, I feel compelled to say something about current events, of which there are many to choose from lately, and they all strike deep into my heart.

This is not an easy post to write, but I'm writing it so you know who I am.

1. There is a huge struggle in the country over a woman's right to control what happens to her body and everything that entails. Here's my take. I have a dear friend who is a social worker. She works with at-risk children. These have included, over the years, 14-year olds who were pregnant, usually by an older relative or mom's boyfriend; a 5-year old who was beaten with a bat because he was not prompt with his nightly prayers; homeless children who live everyday with uncertainty through no fault of their own. There are more, but these are the ones she can bring herself to talk to others about.

When my friend is out of a job because all of our children are safe, then talk to me about the rights of the unborn. Until then, I can only worry about the ones who are here.

2. Yes, I'm glad that gay people can marry. Yes, I can respect the opinions of people who aren't glad, as long as they are respectfully not glad, and not indignantly not glad. I have good friends who are gay and married. So far, they haven't wreaked havoc on my marriage to Dale. 

What I do wish is that people would recognize the difference between the consensual nature of adult relationships, whether straight or gay, and the (very) nonconsensual nature of relationships between an adult and a child or an animal or anyone who has told them NO. Gay marriage is not a slippery slope toward marrying your pet sheep.

3. Paula, Paula, Paula. She has dug herself a deep pit, and not one to barbeque a hamhock in. She claims she's not a racist, and I'm betting she truly feels that in her heart. It is not a lie, at least not to her.

Here's the thing: my mom was not a racist. She believed that in her heart and would defend herself against all attackers. I can honestly say I never heard her say the N-word. When I was five or six, a friend had taught me a very racist saying, and she explained what it meant and said I was to never repeat it.

That being said, some of the things I "learned" from her, over the years, were that 1) if you touched a black person, their color would rub off on you; 2) black people were, by their very nature, prone to be lazy and steal things; and 3) we should feel sorry for them because they can't help it if they're black.

Well, being married to a black man for 21 years, I can tell you that I haven't gotten any darker, he works his butt off, and I only feel sorry for him when he's had a hard day working his butt off. Which isn't even the point. The point is that everything she believed was racist, and yet she did not see herself as a racist because she wouldn't use a word.

With Paula Deen, there's this layer of fame that glosses over everything that she could do to be shown how to grow and change and become a better person. Do I think she needs to be shunned? No, I think she needs to be disciplined, as in, "trained." Do I think her shows need to be cancelled? How about putting them on hiatus until she can understand what racism is all about. Right now, she's so lost in the publicity and trying to spin everything to her advantage. She just needs to stop and take the time to listen and learn and understand.

Maybe with all of these events, we all need time to listen and learn and understand.

Now that all that's off my chest, I promise in my next post, I'll be up to my usual hijinks.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The (not so) cool jerk

Some characters pop into my head as full-bodied people; I know them well and can write them without much fuss. Some people need me to get to know them better, so I find out their background, their preferences, and even their astrological signs.

Today I've spent the entire day with Bobby Fermino, one of the horse trainers in my new mystery. I don't like Bobby and I didn't want to spend time with him, but if he's going to be in the story, I have to know who he is.

I began by knowing that he is a manipulative, narcissistic jerk. He plays fast and loose with the rules. He steps on peoples' feelings without any empathy. He gets away with it because he wins.

But how did he get that way?

It was the hardest journaling I've ever done. I know some of you dabble in the Dark Art of Human Behavior. What do you think? Is this how Bobby got to be who he is?

I want to win. Doesn’t matter what at – I want to win at everything. It’s my parents’ fault. If they hadn’t spent so much time fawning over my big brother, I wouldn’t have had to try so hard. Tony could do no wrong. He was so shiny and perfect. I don’t get it.

I mean, for Pete’s sake, he always had his head stuck in a goddamned book. Yeah, he got the grades, but what fun is that? They gave him everything, just for a few goddamned A’s. A free ride to college, hell, a car to get there. Not just a car, a brand new car.
They were all impressed because Tony wanted to be like them. They're both doctors, but when I was six, Dad bought a little farm next to a big cattle spread. He and Mom thought we could 'stay close to the land' or some kind of weird shit like that.
School was boring. I couldn’t wait to get outa there. When Mom and Dad talked to me at all, it was to tell me I needed to apply myself. To what? Didn’t really know what I wanted to do, so I spent most of my time out with the guys next door at the ranch. Watched them ride fast, rope cattle, then drink a few beers. That looked like fun.

As soon as I was old enough, I started riding and roping and drinking with them. They were good guys. Not book smart. Not worried about anything. That’s the way to be. When you’re not worried, you can figure out how to get ahead.
Tony graduated from high school and got a BMW to drive to college. I graduated from high school and got the boot. No car, no college, just an invitation out the door to the “real world” and a promise to take me back when I “straightened up”.

Don’t do me no favors.

Good thing I’d been playing the angles. I met a gal, Kelsey, whose parents owned a big spread in Arizona, near Phoenix. I managed to bullshit my way into starting their young horses which gave me some income while I was banging their daughter. She was a nice kid. So nice I married her when she said she was knocked up.
Turns out, she was a sly one. There was no baby, but at least now I was in the family so I could slide my chair up to big table.

Soon I had a real trainer shingle, Bobby Fermino, All Around and Performance Horses. I could take a mediocre horse and turn them into a champion. Okay, so sometimes I needed a little more than just ‘training.’ Better living through chemistry, as they say. And of course there are procedures.
The clients didn’t mind. Their horses were winning at shows. I was winning. Winning money at reining. Winning prestige and a name at pleasure events. I didn’t even have to advertise. My clients took out ads in the Journal featuring me and their expensive horses.

The key was to get clients who didn’t want to ride their own horses. None of these amateur riders for me. I worked with horses, not people. That way I didn’t have a lot of eyes scrutinizing what I do. I got results. Who cares how I did it?
Not that I don’t like people. The horse show world is a great place to meet folks… especially the female kind. Could I help it if these girls flirted with me? My wife was hounding me for kids now. I wasn’t in the mood to raise any brats, so there’d be no sex there. Besides, she was starting to look her age. I still needed an outlet for my urges, though.

Kelsey walked into the tack room one night to find me with one of my outlets, Brittany. Funny, I never saw her until Brittany had put on her panties and left. That Kelsey was a sharp one. She had pictures. Lots of pictures, and not just the action shots of me and Brittany. Pictures of my training methods.

So my methods are harsh, so what? They’re just horses, for Pete’s sake. The clients can’t care, they’re winning. But the AQHA would care. I’d be lucky to be suspended.

I was given choices. Get out of town or else. She didn’t even care if my crimes tainted her family’s name. “Daddy’s got enough money to shield us.” She tossed me the keys to the ranch foreman’s 15-year old truck.

“Daddy can buy him a new one. Send me an address and I’ll ship your clothes.”
Luck is a funny thing. My bad luck had put my ass on the road at two in the morning. Good luck had put me on the road at the exact time to snap a picture that would change my life.
BTW, no offense, but this is who I see when I picture Bobby Fermino:
Sorry, Guy.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Geez, there's just bits of me everywhere

I'm not here today.

You'll find me talking about my wandering mind and ever-moving mouth at Crime Fiction Collective.

I'm being interviewed on a GREAT author blog at HBS Author's Spotlight. Check it out.

And of course, being Thursday, I'm discussing the latest entertainment at the Carline house - namely our son moving back for the summer, along with all his 'stuff'. This comes via the Placentia News-Times.

On Saturday, I'm actually over at Writers Who Kill, so stay tuned for that.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A little late to the Father's Day party

I got up this morning thinking I would do a Father's Day post, then decided I wouldn't, and now that it's almost over, decided I would.

My dad and mom were together the entire time I was growing up, which meant my dad was always living with us, but I can't say that I ever knew him. He worked several jobs and odd hours and was usually sleeping when I was at home. I tried to get to know him as an adult and found, to my disappointment, that he was a closet alcoholic.

Good thing I had my grandpa, Hansel Wetherholt. He was a stoic, stubborn, literal guy, but he was crazy about his grandkids. I feel like I was his favorite, but I'm thinking that all of the grandkids thought that. Here are a few of the things that made him so unique:

1. He was raised in a very rural area of southern Illinois in the 1920's, didn't wear shoes until he was six, started smoking cigarettes at eight, and had his tonsils removed without anesthesia. Yeah, he was a Kiddy BadAss.

2. His favorite way to spend a weekend afternoon was to sit at the patio table, smoking and listening to the Cubs games on his transistor radio. They pissed him off constantly, but he never abandoned them for the Cardinals, which is odd since he was raised closer to St. Louis than Chicago. (P.S. No one was a White Sox fan. Ever.)

3. He was super-proud of being an electrician at A.E. Staley Manufacturing and worked there for almost 50 years, but he took early retirement so he could travel with Grandma more, go fishing, and just chill.

4. When he was 63, he decided he wasn't going to smoke anymore, so after a 2-3 pack a day habit, he quit. Cold turkey. Like I said, badass.

5. When I was little, he used to take me for car rides and we always came back with a new pet. They never lasted long, because my mother (his daughter) didn't really want animals around so she'd find them a new home. Okay, I'm hoping they went to a new home. My favorite story of this is when he took me to get a kitten. Country-boy Hansel had never seen Siamese kittens before. They are skinny and look rather weak, as opposed to your average barn cat. So he bought me two, in case one died. Of course, they both thrived and swung from the curtains and drove my mom to madness.

6. When he was 65, his long history of eating high-fat foods and smoking caught up with him and he died of a heart attack. I had been to see him a couple of days previously and felt particularly good about some conversation we had shared. It was still incredibly hard.

His death changed me in a number of ways. Shortly after, I got a job offer to move from Illinois to California. I hated being in Illinois and wanted to move, but making my family sad was holding me back. It suddenly dawned on me that the natural order of life was that my parents and grandparents would die before I did - they were going to leave me stuck in this town. Unless I made the choice to get out.

Happy Father's Day, Grandpa, and thanks for everything.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Gayle's not here, Mrs. Torrance.

Gayle is back from Sacramento and will be giving a debrief sometime soon, but she is so tired, she can only refer to herself in the Third Person. To paraphrase Danny in The Shining (everyone hold up your index finger):

Here are some observations about the actual trip.

1. She should never take Red Vines on a 7-hour car ride. Even after she does not want another one, she must eat another one, and the last one tastes just like her salty tears because there are no more.

2. Singing along with Gladys (and Carole and Carly and well, you get the idea) at the top of her lungs is all well and good, but after such a long car ride and so much iPod music, her throat hurts.

3. When she is on the I-5, she can drive 75-80 miles an hour and run with the big dogs, but once she hits L.A. County, she is reduced to a whimpering pup as the Escalades and other large projectiles-on-wheels scream by her.

4. She passed a lot of Schneider National trucks on the way up and back, to the point that, as she followed the last one from the 210 to the 57, a story began forming in her head.

It involves a bad girl coming to a bad end, laying in the twisted wreckage, a vision of the Schneider National truck burning into her retina as Florence and the Machine pounds the Dog Days Are Over into the atmosphere, to join the coppery smell of blood turning sticky in the heat.

And with that, Gayle is going to turn on The Voice and turn off her brain.

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