Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Good, the Bad and the Elf Shoes

It's difficult to find something to say when I'm at one of those moments where I feel my writing is very sophomoric. It could be because I'm reading plenty of well written books and articles, and I think "ooh, that's good." And then I read my own and I think, "man, that sucks!" A teacher in college told us that it was best to read bad books in order to build confidence. You won't read "The Great Gatsby" and then be able to write something so eloquent. You need to read lots of Danielle Steele and think, "I can do much better." But I can't read bad books. They're insipid and put me to sleep.

I reread a travel article I've been working on--it was great a couple of weeks ago, but now I just hate it. Too much description. But I think I came up with a good opening idea for my book. It's still a rough idea that I just jotted down and needs to be worked on, but at least it's there. But I've got to keep on writing. It's the only way to improve. And I was actually impressed with a travel story I submitted the other day. It was one of those where I showed it to others and they all had the response I was looking for, that "wow, that's good!" reaction. So I must be getting better.

Oh--my elf shoes arrived in the mail. I'll be wearing them to work for Halloween. Hopefully it'll liven up my co-workers a bit!

Friday, October 28, 2005

Back in the Saddle

Have finally gotten back into writing. Finished a travel article and submitted it today. Still haven't heard about the article I wrote last month. I hate that. I'm very self-conscious and critical about my writing and I know when it pretty much blows. But that article was well written. And it was much better than most of those I've seen published in the paper the past few weeks. There's a new travel editor, so maybe he's just got really poor taste. In any case, this last article I wrote was a rewrite of one that was rejected a year ago. But I rewrote it in such a manner that it's not even recognizable from the earlier one.

I finished rewriting the first few sections of my book. It's hard to call them chapters when each "chapter" is only 2-3 pages long. I realize that my book needs to take on a simple matter-of-fact voice. My problem is I try to do too much at times and take on a Dickensian approach to writing. But the fact is that this story is non-fiction and needs to be told in a simpler fashion. And the big sell is that it's interesting. That's what Sera keeps reminding me. She proofreads it and says it's good, but then I question her judgment. Tell her she's biased and doesn't know what good writing is. It's amazing that she sticks with me through all that. But then Sera points out that for this story, the only thing at matters is that it's interesting. And it is. I just hope it reads well.

And now for another little problem. In addition to the 13! books I have out from the library, I can't seem to stop buying books. Spent another $50 over the weekend. I'm half-way through Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer," but feel the need to put it away for a bit and move on to something else. It's a good book, and Miller is a very talented writer, but I'm in the mood for something with a storyline or semblance of a plot. Then I'll return to "Tropic." It's a book I must finish, especially since it's listed as one of the Top 100 by Time.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Gina Part Two

I slip into the watery depths of Gina's eyes, my surroundings dissolving into an aqueous blur. There's no more Tom. No more plastic bunnies. No more sense of reason.

Just Gina and her sparkling eyes.

"You have the most incredible eyes," I tell her. "I can't stop staring into them."

I've never felt like this at a strip club. Losing grip with reality. Common sense drowning in my bottle of beer. I'm sure it's just an act, but Gina just seems so different. And I feel so different sitting next to her.

"Your eyes are sparkling," I said. "At first I thought it was the reflection of those mirror balls and all the lights."

She shakes her head resolutely before I can finish my thought. "They only reflect my soul," she says.

Her pupils flash from green to steel blue to gray, with flames dancing around the retinas. It's how I'd imagine a fallen angel's eyes might look--as she lures you away from reason and sensibility and drags you helplessly into eternal darkness.

"You have really beautiful eyes yourself," she says, massaging my thighs.

Though the compliment makes me feel good, its source raises doubts in my mind.

"But you have to say that," I reply.

"I don't have to say anything," she states firmly.

"You're not going to insult me, otherwise there'd be no money in it for you. I'm sure you have to shower all the guys here with compliments."

Gina's smile fades as she removes her hands from my legs. "No, I don't have to say anything. I can just ask you questions about what you do for a living, the weather. I wouldn't tell you that you had beautiful eyes unless I meant it."

There's conviction in her voice and I want to believe. But I know that everything in a strip club is just an illusion. The girls make a living out of making you feel special. I'm torn between reality and fantasy and what to believe. Should I believe a stripper when she compliments me?

A voice suddenly screams into my head, pulling everything back into focus.

"What the hell are you talking about?!" it yells.

It's Tom.

"Make her dance already!" he slurs while tossing a $10 bill in my direction. The girls surrounding him are enjoying our show while sipping watered-down drinks. Their basketball breasts remain unnaturally still while their diaphragms ripple with laughter.

Gina smiles and asks the inevitable question. "Would you like a dance?"

"I wish you were asking me that under different circumstances," I reply. "Like at a club. But since that's beyond my control at the moment, you may as well dance here."

At the start of the next song Gina begins her dance. Her curvaceous body slowly gyrates and grinds by my legs. Her black bustier peels off, revealing shapely, natural breasts.

Leaning into my face, she squeezes her breasts inches from my hungry mouth. She pulls away moments before contact, flashing a lustful grin. Gina glides her hands sinuously along smooth creamy legs, pausing to caress the outline of her black panties. Again her body drops closer to mine, tempting me. I yearn to stroke her milky thighs, swirl my tongue around that flat stomach. But it's forbidden to touch; I would be expelled from this sultry paradise.

Gina moves in close to my face, and whispers into my ear. "I'm really glad you came in today."

We smile at one another and I so want to believe.

When the song ends Gina hands me her bustier.
"Would you put this back on for me?" she innocently asks. "I'm sure you have a lot of experience with this type of thing."

I'm excited at the chance to wrap my arms around her while doing this, but I struggle. I'm fumbling in the darkness and can't properly hook the clasps together.

"Are you okay back there?" she asks.

"I'm having a bit of trouble," I tell her, a bit embarrassed. "It's too dark and I can't see what I'm doing."

Reaching her hands around, she easily hooks her bustier back together.

"I've always had trouble with bras and other things that clasp and hook," I explain. "I've never worn them myself so I can't be expected to work them like an expert."

Gina looks at me curiously and laughs. Then she leans over and lightly kisses my mouth. A strip club first for me.

"There's something about you," she says, "that makes me feel really good inside."

The irregular rhythm of techno music pounds my ears while smoke drifts off the stage and clouds around my head. The kiss, the beer, the music, Tom, the plastic girls, Gina, the smoke...that kiss...fog my brain and I can't think clearly. I need to get out.

"I have to call work," I announce and immediately stand up.

I look over at Gina. "Will you be here when I come back?" I ask, sounding like a desperate schoolboy.

"Of course I'll wait for you," she replies.

Stepping out of the darkness of Rachel's I'm instantly blinded by the mid-afternoon sun. I have trouble focusing in the bright light and the parking lot is blanched and overexposed. But the fresh air is invigorating and I'm soon able to see more clearly. I need to call work...and lie.

Rob, a co-worker, answers.

"Hi, Rob, it's me. I have some errands to run and I won't be returning to the office today."

I pause, realizing I need to embellish this further. "Yeah, this really sucks," I continue. "I wanted to get this minor thing done on my car and now it's taking forever. And now there's an accident on the highway and everything's all backed up. I'm gonna have to take a half a vacation day."

"No problem," Rob replies. "See ya tomorrow."

Cars speed down Orange Avenue as a plane roars overhead. Everything hurries at a frenzied pace outside, quickly moving forward, quickly growing old. But inside Rachel's time is always frozen. There is no past and there is definitely no future. All that matters is the present--a beautiful young girl making you feel special. No clocks, no windows. Just darkness swallowing all sense of reality--and reason. I'm desperate to return.

I snap my phone shut and am about to stuff it into my pocket when it vibrates threateningly in my palm.

"####!," I think. "It's probably someone from work--they're on to me."

Flipping the phone open I check the caller ID. And freeze.

The number illuminated on the screen is most familiar--my wife.

I stand motionless in the parking lot as the world rushes past, the phone ringing and vibrating in my hand. I should answer this call, I say to myself. Bring myself back to reality. If I can explain what's going on inside Rachel's, about Tom and blowing off work--and especially about Gina, I'll feel so much better. A complete absolution of guilt. There's nothing wrong with the situation if I can just tell Sera that what's going on is beyond my control. I'm stuck here and I have no choice in this. Once I purge this from my system I'll regain complete control of my senses. It's an easy decision. Just answer the phone.

But it keeps ringing.

And ringing.

Until I snap it shut and stuff it deep into my pocket.

And I turn and head back to the darkness.

Back to Gina.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Great Gatsby and Me

A friend from back North came to visit us the past week and so I haven't had the chance to write in this blog. Or on my other stuff--my two half-finished travel articles and the rewrite on my novel. So now I haven't written anything in a week. I've got to get refocused and get back into this.

In any case--here's a little something. Back in college I read "The Great Gatsby" and was not impressed. I found it an insipid bore and for years I expressed my dissatisfaction with it. But lately I've been seeing it listed as people's favorites and thought I should try again. So I reread it this past weekend and had to ask myself a question--was I really THAT stupid back then? It was one of the greatest novels I've ever read. Fitzgerald is able to express emotion better than anyone I've ever read--and not pretentiously.

This made me look back at my life in a retrospective sort of way. Perhaps I had not yet lived while in college. I had never traveled and was still a naive young boy who had never even had a job. So much has happened since then--relationships, exploring the world, working. There were parts of "The Great Gatsby" that I felt perfectly summed up periods of my life--periods I had not yet lived the first time I read this. A perfect example is this one paragraph:
"...I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby's face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams--not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart."

I lived in Paris many years ago, madly in love with a beautiful French girl. Due to circumstances mostly beyond my control I had to return to NY. We cried uncontrollably in the last few days before my flight. Lazing on the lawn by the Eiffel Tower one afternoon a loose page of a USA Today happened to blow over to our feet. There was an article of how long distance romances don't work. Very prophetic.
She looked at me with sad eyes and I tried to reassure her.
"Our love is strong," I said. "Don't worry."

As I walked up the ramp for my flight home(pre 9/11 security), I turned suddenly and ran back, kneeled down and kissed her beautiful, smooth belly button. She laughed while tears streamed down her cheeks.

"I will always love you and will always be yours," she said in broken English.
We wrote several letters a week (pre Internet days as well) and called frequently. Several months went by before we saw each other again. But by then the passion and intensity was gone; we were left with smoldering ruins of a great fire.

For years I've thought about writing our story but could never properly express it. Then I found that paragraph in "The Great Gatsby." It was like Fitzgerald had experienced the same. He must have in order to express it so perfectly. And it's not just that paragraph. There were several others that expressed my story equally well. Was I really that stupid back then? Or did I just need a lifetime of experience to appreciate its beauty?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Gina Part One

She tells me her name is Brandi but I know she's lying. A good relationship can never start off so artificially so I get right to the point.

"What's your real name?" I ask.

Brandi fixes a deep gaze into my eyes--and doesn't let go.

Techno music drones incessantly while pulsing colors swirl around us; Brandi's face flashes like a Christmas tree.


"It's Gina," she finally says, still staring into my eyes.
"Is it really Gina?" I ask.
"Yes. And that's not short for anything. It's not Regina. Just Gina. I hate when guys think it's Regina."

Gina has that Goth look without being Goth. Naturally jet black hair hangs to the edge of black mascara outlining her sparkling green eyes. Alabaster white skin accentuates the darkness, and is highlighted by sensuous crimson lips.

Gina's eyes flicker with the reflection of the spinning mirror balls above the stage. I break from our trance and look at the others. They smile, but their eyes don't flicker. They don't do anything at all. Their pupils are lifeless Milk Duds. And still they smile.

"You're not like the others," I say to Gina.
But before she can respond I continue.
"Everyone else is so fake. You're the most real thing I've ever seen in here."
Gina smiles but doesn't say anything. She doesn't have to. And now I don't want to leave this place.

This place being Rachel's, an "upscale" gentleman's club in Orlando. But that's just an expensive term for strip club. I've been coming here every week courtesy of my boss at work, Tom. He e-mails me about coming for lunch whenever he's in the mood. But it has to be secret. Tom doesn't want the others to know what kind of debaucherous lifestyle he leads. As if the wild parties he throws at his house which end in naked people in his pool and sex in the bathrooms doesn't already send that message. And there was that half-naked, drunk intern bouncing off everyone's lap at the Super Bowl party. He could have gotten into a lot of trouble for that one.

Tom always makes me wait in the parking lot for him, while he lingers a good 5 minutes behind. "Can't be obvious," he says. But he doesn't fool anyone. Lunch shouldn't take two and a half hours and we return to the snickers of our co-workers. How was "lunch?" John will ask with a goofy grin.

For me, going to Rachel's means indulging in their incredible buffet for $10. It's a 4 star restaurant with topless girls dancing about. But there's nothing sexy for me about stuffing barbecue ribs into my mouth, and I pay little attention to the show. Tom is busy stuffing dollar bills into the G-strings of girls half his age. I get up and go for seconds on lunch. And thirds. And there's that scrumptious strawberry pastry for dessert. As much as I want. When I return with dessert there's usually a topless girl at my table making Tom laugh. Her arms draped around his neck. The girl usually has basketballs where her breasts should be. I've never liked fake boobs. It literally feels like squeezing a rubber ball, and I don't get any pleasure out of that. In fact most of the girls at Rachel's are fake, and not just in their boobs.

Every few weeks Tom finds a new girl to flirt with, to try and convince to meet up for dinner some time. Some of these girls will take his phone number...and never call. Some will call on a weekday morning, when they know he's at work, and leave a message on his cell. Tom will frantically return their calls over and over...and over. But they'll never pick up. It's just a tease. These girls may be fake, but they're not stupid.

Tom will easily spend $50 during lunch. It's $10 a lap dance, and he always gets more than a couple. Me, I can get out of there with just the $10 for lunch. I'm not interested in plastic girls. With their plastic boobs and their plastic personalities.

And then one day Tom takes the day off but still calls me to go to Rachel's. He'll pick me up at the office. But don't tell anyone, he says, it's our secret.

And on this day Tom can drink all the alcohol he wants. After all, he's not working. But I am. And now he's too drunk to drive me back to the office and I can't drive a stick. And he's got three plastic bunnies surrounding him, all of them saying how happy they are to meet us. All of them drinking overpriced ######### that Tom has bought for them.

"Just call work and tell them you had to run some errands," he says. "Tell them you're taking half a vacation day. But don't put it down on the time sheet, if you know what I mean." I feel dishonest about doing this. I worry about what the others at work will think. They're not stupid and they'll figure it out. I worry. I worry. I worry.

And then I see Gina.

And she comes over and sits next to me. She doesn't look at Tom. Not even a glance. It's just me.

And she's not like the others.

And now I don't want to leave this place.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

First Novels

I haven't written a word since I finished the first draft of my novel. At least I'm more relaxed now. I have added some notes for the first chapter, just need to start putting it all together. Sera got me a book on how to sell your ideas to publishers. I found it uplifting as my book is non-fiction and I believe to be about something interesting, and different. Something most people can relate to. Everyone tells me the same, and I do get worried at times that someone might put out a similar story if I don't get moving on this. So I'm thinking that when I'm about half-way done I'll start sending out query letters.

I just finished reading "The 25th Hour" by David Benioff. I found it captivating and exceptionally well written. It wasn't pretentious and the characters were realistically created. I learned this was Benioff's first novel and so I decided to do some further digging into him. For some reason I was kind of hoping that he had struggled in the past, like Rex Pickett (author of "Sideways.") Instead I saw that Benioff wrote the screenplay for "Troy," received a large salary for another film coming out shortly and is engaged to Amanda Peet. Though I still loved the book, I can't help losing a bit of interest in Benioff. It's tough to relate to a writer when he's that successful...and is engaged to Amanda Peet. Of course, I do need to get my act together and finish my novel so that I can make a ton of money and write some screenplays...hahaha!

I'm currently reading "Invisible Monsters" by Chuck Palahniuk, the author of "Fight Club." I loved "Fight Club," but "Invisible Monsters" doesn't seem to have the same luster and appeal. Palahniuk seems to be trying too hard--too much description, a few metaphors that don't seem to work. It's hard to keep focused while I'm reading this one. I've thought about putting it down and starting something else, but as the library won't let me renew it I've got to finish it by next week.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lightning Strikes Twice--Catching Harmonicas

Well, it's done...sort of. I finally finished the first draft of my novel on Sunday. I goofed off on Saturday and didn't write a thing, and so Sera and I canceled our "weekly" canoe trip on the Wekiwa River Sunday so I could get it done. I ended up with two different epilogues and couldn't decide which one to go with. In the end I decided it was best to finally start the rewrite...that vainglorious rewrite...and by the time I reach the end I should have a better idea of which direction the book is heading. Though the rewrite will take some doing as the first draft reads like shit. It's all disjointed, out of sequence, etc. Most of it is written poorly as my goal was just to get to the end without stopping. This is probably why I was so frustrated with writing it; I knew it read terribly but if I stopped and belabored over it I'd never get to the end. Now I'm going to take a few days off from the book and possibly begin the rewrite over the weekend.

And now for something completely different:
On a cold, wet Thanksgiving Eve in 1998 Sera and I went to see Blues Traveler in Atlantic City. At the end of the show frontman John Popper tosses his half dozen show harmonicas into the crowd. He looked my way and tossed me one, but I reached for the secret too soon and it glanced off my thumb. It was always an amusing little anecdote to tell people the past several years.

Flash forward to Sunday night, Blues Traveler live, at the House of Blues in Orlando. I told Sera that I knew, absolutely knew, that John Popper would be throwing another harmonica my way. We arrived early and got to the front row. It was an amazing concert--especially when you're that close. During the whole show I eagerly awaited the moment when John would toss us his harmonicas. When it came time and the audience was screaming, I yelled, "over here, John!" He looked my way and tossed it directly to me. There was no one in my way as I was in the front row. And then I don't know what happened. I grabbed it, and dropped it. It went right over the security barrier. A bunch of us hung around after the show trying to convince security to find it. Finally one guard picked it up and handed it to the guy next to me! What did I learn from this? It's really fucking hard to catch a harmonica!!!! This bothered me so much that I had a fitful sleep that night--lots of dreams of me getting another chance for the catch, of John personally handing me a harmonica. When I got up for work on Monday, groggy and grumpy, I was more upset with the fact that I let such a trivial matter bother me so much. There's so much more important stuff to dwell on in life, so why oh why was this bothering me? I really don't know. But in the end I went to the Blues Traveler website and put a post up about my harmonically challenged inadequacies. And a bunch of people responded saying they've all had their share of problems catching that harmonica. Its taken most of them several shows (one guy 47!) to finally land that elusive instrument. Maybe the harmonica is a metaphor for something in my life. Any ideas? In any case, one of my goals is now to meet John Popper and tell him this story--and get him to hand me a harmonica.

At least if I manage to meet Kira Salak in January it's highly unlikely that she'll be tossing any harmonicas at me.