Smash Through Writer’s Block

If you’re a student and you have a term paper deadline looming, or if you’re a pro blogger who has to conjure original content out of thin air to pull a paycheck, you’ll probably want to get vaccinated against writer’s block.  Of course, I’m joking.  The Writer’s Block Vaccine is still in early trial stages and probably won’t be on the market for another five or six years.

But don’t despair.  There are a few tricks I’ve picked up over the years that help me smash through that barrier and get some good words down on the page.  Today I’m going to pass one particularly helpful technique on to you – I call it, Unreal History.

The premise is fairly straight forward.  Make up some kind of historical untruth and jot it down on a piece of paper.  It shouldn’t be too crazy, but it shouldn’t be too vanilla either.  You’re shooting for semi-crazy.

Here’s an example: An Irishman invented the first Margarita back in 1810.

Okay, we have our semi-crazy premise.  Now write about 250 words on your account of the unreal historical fact.  Have fun with it.  There’s no pressure – it’s just an exercise to get the fingers moving across the keyboard.  I compare it to a basketball player whose shot is way off early in the game.  Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the free throw line  just to see the ball leave your hand and fall through the hoop.  Suddenly the muscle memory kicks in, and the confidence is back.  Next thing you know you’re flirting with a triple double.

I’m telling you -crazy as it sounds- I’ve used this technique to generate some good momentum in my writing.  Of course, I never actually show anyone what I write during these little one page exercises – they get deleted almost as soon as they’re completed.  But, for the sake of demonstration, I’ll go ahead and post an example.  Here’s my account of the first Margarita that was invented by an Irishman in 1810:

In 1810 an Irish monk, Chuck Murphy, from Donegal, was sent to Mexico to investigate the legitimacy of a purported miracle – the image of the Virgin Mary manifesting in a bowl of tortilla soup.  Unfortunately, a mangy goat consumed the soup, bowl and all, before he had a chance to bear witness. Murphy, undeterred, resolved to remain in Mexico in search of a genuine miracle.  He inspected soups, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, any and every dish he happened upon.  Still, he found nothing.

It was a hot day in July when a dejected Murphy staggered into a small restaurant, very much in need of drink.  The water was fine, but there was a deeper thirst that needed quenching.  Rays of sunlight shone through the window, illuminating an array of bottles on a shelf.  Murphy was suddenly compelled to moisten the rim of a rocks glass with a damp towel, then dip it in salt.  He was further compelled to fill the glass with ice, then he gathered the bottles from the shelf and added tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.  Somehow, he knew the precise proportions, down to the drop.  Murphy stirred it a few times and tasted.  It was delicious and refreshing, and he called out, “Through Divine Providence, I have invented the, McSwizzler!”

Murphy taught the recipe to the proprietor of the establishment, and returned happily to his home in Donegal where he died many years later. Of course, the proprietor changed the name of the drink, and History did not remember Chuck Murphy.  But, in the small coastal towns of Jalisco, people still whisper stories about the thirsty red headed man who mixed the first Margarita.

Mexican Shamrock biggestLOL, I just read what I wrote, and I can’t believe I’m going to show it to other people.  And there are actually a few out there who recently started following this blog.  Thank you so much for your interest. It means a lot.

Take care, and keep writing.









On Rejection

Rejection is part of the writing game, so it’s best to develop some callouses.  By this I mean don’t take a rejection personally – try to be objective about it.  If you get a form letter declining your work, it’s not the end of the world. Editorial staffs are usually over worked and under paid, and in many instances they’re working pro bono.  They simply don’t have time to explain the nuances that went into their decision to ultimately pass on your work.

A personal rejection letter is fairly valuable.  Don’t get me wrong – it still sucks – but you can glean valuable insight into the nebulous world of the submission process from them.  Today I’m going to present one of my short stories that was rejected by a small literary press.  This rejection came with some specific reasons why it didn’t make the cut.  First, I’ll detail the constructive criticism from the editor, then post the story itself.  If you’d rather read the story first, just scroll down and come back to this part later.

  1. Voice


“Some of the editorial comments focused on the limited third-person narrator in the first eight pages of the story. It’s a brave choice, just as Salinger made a brave choice in The Catcher in the Rye when he created such a distinctive first-person voice for Holden Caulfield, but – just as Salinger caught some heat for Holden – this story caught some heat since that extended section’s POV is basically limited to that of a kindergartener.


This is good stuff right here – it made me realize that roughly 2,000 words from the perspective of a five-year-old is a tough sell within the narrow parameters of a short story.  I still like the premise of the story, but now I see that the relatively slow development of my narrative might work better as a novella. It would give me time to really let the slow burning opening blossom into its full potential later on.  The risk with this strategy is that the original tone and voice I wanted for my story will be unrecognizable by the time it’s all said and done. It’s a lot to consider.



  1. Suspension of disbelief


“Truth may be stranger than fiction and the balloon incident may have indeed happened in real life but it raised some editorial questions as being highly unlikely that the teachers would’ve taken the children out in a storm as described: the wind blowing so hard that the teacher needed help opening the door; the wind sounded like it was screaming; rain sounds like it’s sizzling; raining hard enough to hold balloons down.”


This criticism very well could stem from a generational gap – perhaps the staff was, on average, a decade or two younger than myself.  When I was growing up, things were a little different at school.  Many of our teachers were products of the 1920’s, 30’s, 40’s, and they brought the attitudes of their times into their classrooms.  Fights on the playground were usually filed under, “Boys Will Be Boys,” and the punishment was usually nothing worse than having to clap the chalkboard erasers out the window until they were dust free.  And if your teacher was a nun who grew up with seven siblings during The Depression, you can bet your ass she was gonna keep the balloon launch on schedule, despite some inclement weather.

Of course, the editorial staff isn’t going to fact check your account of history.  If the details seem implausible to them, and they feel it’s important to have plausible details in the fiction they publish, then you’re simply out of luck.  It’s subjective, and another publication could very well find my account of a tough as nails grade school nun spot on.

Other editorial / highly unlikely – the end when Tommy and Eric fall from the tree and neither are hurt. Tommy falls twenty feet from a tree, lands on his back, and is dead for three or four minutes and gets up and walks away without any injuries?”


Certainly there is a metaphysical component to my story, and since it’s fiction, I saw absolutely no problem with taking such a liberty.  But again, the editorial staff wouldn’t suspend their disbelief, and it became a sticking point.


So, why wouldn’t they suspend their disbelief for my story? Are they a bunch of hacks who don’t recognize good writing when they see it?  I seriously doubt that.  After all, I had enough respect for the work they publish to submit something of my own for their consideration.


Here’s one theory of mine: I simply misinterpreted the vibe of their magazine.  I got the impression they liked fiction that takes some risks, and has real action within the narrative (as opposed to stories that are more meditative in nature).  I really thought my story was consistent with their taste, so I’m guessing there’s another reason.


Theory Two: I simply didn’t write the story as well as I could have.  Maybe the staff was already put off by the slow opening, and they weren’t in the mood to grant me any more liberties.  And, it could be that the contrast between the realistic components and the metaphysical components was just too jolting.  Perhaps I need to smooth the transition a bit.


These are all factors I’ll keep in mind if, and when I decide to revise the story.  What I don’t want to do is start tweaking everything for the sake of appealing to editors.  Editors don’t want to be appealed to; they want good writing that is consistent with the tone of their respective publications.


So, in the wake of this rejection, I’m left to grapple with a few important questions.  Does my story have merit? And I do believe, at its core, it does have something valuable to offer.  Now, it’s up to me decide which direction to take it.  Does it need a complete overhaul?  Just a subtle change?  Something in between? Decisions, decisions . . . in the meantime, here’s the most recent iteration of the story.  Questions and comments are welcome, as always.




The Helium Balloon Massacre of 1979

by Hawkelson Rainier



It’s snack time, but everybody has to pray before they’re allowed to eat their two animal cookies and drink their fruit punch. Tommy doesn’t feel like waiting today. Besides, he doesn’t believe God can see you all the time like Sister Swaboda says He can.

Tommy believes this because he was bad last year, but he still got all the Christmas presents he asked for. He figures if God could really see you all the time, He would have told Santa Clause to only leave him coal and orange peels in his stocking. Santa Clause must not be able to see you all the time, either, he supposes.

Tommy takes a bite of his hippopotamus cookie while everybody else has their heads bowed.The pink frosting tastes good.Then he takes a drink of Karen Wetzel’s fruit punch. That’s the girl who sits next to him.She doesn’t notice because her eyes are scrunched shut while she prays.

The prayer is finally over and Karen is looking at her fruit punch.  She looks at Tommy, then back at the Dixie cup, then back at Tommy.

“What?” he says.

“Nothing,” she says.

Now Tommy feels bad for stealing some of Karen’s fruit punch. He didn’t think she’d notice, but she’s smarter than most of the kids in the class. Way smarter than Eric. Tommy and Eric got into three fights so far this year. The last one was over who got to play with the building blocks. Eric is a stupid head and a pee pee head. Tommy’s not allowed to say bad words like that anymore, but he’s also supposed to always tell the truth. And he thinks that’s the truth about Eric.

Tommy thinks the truth about Karen is that she’s very pretty and nice. She has big green eyes and blond hair she always wears in pigtails. Tommy wants to marry her one day. He gives her his lion cookie.

“Thank you,” Karen says.

“Welcome,” he says.

After snack time, Sister Swaboda tells everyone to get their three by five index cards that their moms filled out last night. She takes the class to the playroom which is next door to the classroom. The playroom is the best part about school. There’s a lot of space to run around and a lot of toys. But today is even better because it’s Saint Gregory’s Kindergarten balloon launch.

Sister Swaboda’s helper, Miss Nita, is filling up balloons with something that makes them float. The stuff comes out of a big metal thing that reminds Tommy of his dad’s work thermos that keeps coffee hot. Except this thing is way taller and bigger. Tommy knows if you just blow up a balloon with your breath it won’t float. He wants to see the stuff that makes them float, but Sister Swaboda tells him not to go by the big metal thing. He doesn’t listen, and he touches the thing which makes it wobble. Sister Swaboda grabs him by the arm and drags him into a corner. She yells at him about how somebody could get hurt if the canister fell on them.  Tommy says he wasn’t going to knock it over. He wonders who would be dumb enough to just stand there and let that big metal thing fall on them if he did accidentally knock it over. Probably Eric would be that dumb, but nobody else would.

Miss Nita saves Tommy from all the yelling by asking him to please collect everybody’s three by five index card. Tommy thinks Miss Nita is nice. Way nicer than Sister Swaboda. He gets all the cards and sees that Eric has crumpled his and spilled fruit punch all over it. Stupid head Eric.

There are a lot of balloons to fill up, so one of the moms is helping Miss Nita, who is helping Sister Swaboda. Tommy thinks it’s Jeff’s mom. The three ladies put each index card into a clear plastic envelope so they won’t get wet, then they tie each envelope to a string, which is tied to a balloon. Tommy’s card is tied to a red balloon. It looks good.

Sister Swaboda says there was a girl from last year’s class whose balloon went all the way to Pennsylvania. She got a letter in the mail from the man who found it. Pennsylvania sounds far away to Tommy, but it’s not as far as the Moon. His grandfather showed him the Moon through a telescope once. It looked really cool. His grandfather told him some men flew there ten years ago and they were the first people who ever walked around on it. Tommy asked if he could walk on the Moon, too. His grandfather said maybe one day.

Tommy thinks his red balloon might be able to fly all the way to the Moon. It looks like it wants to take off right now, except the ceiling is holding it back. Karen taps Tommy on the shoulder and points out the window. She says it’s starting to rain. Tommy sees the dark clouds moving really fast across the sky.

Sister Swaboda is angry again. This time she’s mad at Eric for ruining his three by five index card. Now she has to do extra work and fill out another one for him.

Jeff’s mom says it looks pretty bad outside. Miss Nita says maybe they should wait to do the balloon launch another day.  Tommy is afraid they’re going to ruin it, but Sister Swaboda says the balloon launch is still on. Tommy likes her better now because she isn’t afraid of the rain like the other grownups.

Eric is trying to stand on his yellow balloon while Sister Swaboda fills out his new index card. His balloon pops, and Tommy laughs and laughs. Sister Swaboda rips up Eric’s half filled out index card and says that he doesn’t get to participate in the balloon launch now. He cries.   She tells him to put his head down on his desk and not to move until she comes back.

Everybody else puts on their coat and lines up at the front door. Sister Swaboda tries to open the door, but the wind is blowing against it. Miss Nita has to help her push it open, and the class walks outside. It’s raining pretty hard and the wind sounds crazy. It sounds like it’s screaming. Karen stays very close to Tommy and she tells him she’s scared. He tells her this is fun and she shouldn’t be scared. Some kids can’t hold onto their balloons anymore because the wind is too strong. Sister Swaboda yells that everybody should let go of their balloons right now.  Tommy and Karen look at each other and smile. They let their balloons go. Hers is green, like her eyes.  Tommy’s is red, like a fire truck.

For a second all of the balloons are really close together, but the wind scatters them apart. The rain sounds like it’s sizzling, like bacon in the frying pan. Tommy sees that the balloons want to fly away, but the rain is holding them down. None of them can get very high off the ground. The rain makes the balloons fall into the big field behind the school where the older boys play baseball.

Tommy can’t tell which one is his anymore because they’re a lot of red ones, and they’re all mixed up now. The stuff that makes them float is leaking out. The wind starts to push the balloons across the muddy field into an old rusty fence. A lot of them pop.  None of them will go anywhere now.  Not to the Moon – not even to Pennsylvania.

Sister Swaboda yells for everyone to go back inside. Tommy hangs his coat on the rack in the hall. The rain soaked through to his shirt. Karen rings out her pigtails and her teeth chatter.

“Are you cold?” Tommy says.

“A little.  Are you?” Karen says.

“A little.”

They walk into the dark classroom. Stupid head Eric is asleep. He’s the only one who didn’t get rained on. Pee Pee head Eric doesn’t even wake up. Miss Nita flips on the light switch but nothing happens. Sister Swaboda says the electric must be out. She turns up the heat and the radiators start to clank. Tommy’s glad the radiators don’t run on electric.

Miss Nita says it’s okay if they want to put their heads down until their moms come to pick them up. Tommy puts his left ear down on the desk and Karen puts her right ear down so they can see each other. Usually they’d make funny faces to see if one of them would laugh, but this time they just look at each other. Even in the dark classroom Karen’s eyes are very bright.   They hold hands under the desks so Sister Swaboda won’t bug them about it.

It’s quiet except for the radiators. Tommy realizes he will never marry Karen, he’ll never go to the Moon, and God never watches him. He doesn’t know why, but he believes these things are true.


Now Tommy is over forty years old, but everybody still calls him, Tommy, instead of Tom, or Thomas. He orders another Scotch and tells the bartender how everything that went wrong in his life can be traced back to that failed balloon launch in the fall of 1979. Every damned thing, he says. The divorce, all the debt, getting laid off, having to move back in with his parents, all of it started on that day.

“I don’t know, Tommy,” the bartender says, “what do balloons have to do with anything?”

“I’m telling you, Marty, something happened to me that day when I saw all those balloons deflated in that muddy field. It was like my dreams deflated, too.”

“It’s just an excuse, Tommy,” Marty says, “some shitty balloons can’t be the reason everything went wrong in your life. But what the hell do I know? Here, this one’s on the house.”


Tommy finishes his Scotch and walks down the street. It’s the ugly part of autumn they don’t put on postcards. The sky is the color of a rotting carp and the wind siphons the heat out of his bones. He picks up the pace, and it occurs to him he’s headed toward Saint Greg’s Elementary. At least it used to be Saint Greg’s. The city acquired the old school building and all the property from the diocese years ago. They took the big cross down, painted the walls an industrial gray color, and now they use it to store their maintenance equipment.

Tommy walks down into the big field behind the building. The sapling oak his Kindergarten class planted more than three decades ago lords over him now. He remembers how Karen liked to help Sister Swaboda tend to it long after the rest of the class had lost interest.

“You’re gonna grow up to be big and strong,” she would say as she watered it. “You’ll be friends with all the birds and the squirrels.”


After Tommy’s freshman year at Wisconsin University, he came back home for the summer. He was at a keg party when he ran into an old buddy from high school.

“Remember that hot chick, Karen Wetzel, who lived on Engleside and went to Saint Greg’s with us?” his buddy said.

“Yeah, I remember Karen,” Tommy said. “What about her?”

“She died in a car accident a few months ago. Her and some of her sorority sisters were driving back from Panama City where they went for spring break. The girl who was driving went off the road and the car flipped like five times and landed upside down in a lake. Everybody died.”

That’s how Tommy found out about Karen.  He remembers her as he stares up at the big oak. He grabs onto a low hanging limb and strains to pull himself up. It takes a lot of effort.  Finally, he manages to get up onto the limb.

The compulsion to keep climbing is overwhelming. After a while, he looks down and guesses he’s about fifteen feet up. He sees somebody driving toward the tree in a golf cart. The man is yelling something about city property, trespassing, and the fullest extent of the law. He sees the man doesn’t have a gun. It’s just a rent-a-cop.  The hell with it, Tommy thinks, I’m gonna try to get to the top. It’s maybe another forty or fifty feet. He ascends to the next branch before he has to stop and catch his breath.

The security guard looks like a hornet trapped in a jar that was just shaken violently by a malicious child. He gestures wildly. He screams profanities. He jumps up to grab the low branch, but comes up short. He’s in even worse shape than Tommy.

The security guard gets back in the golf cart and retreats to a dilapidated looking shed next to building that used to be Saint Greg’s. Tommy’s arms feel rubbery. The physical exertion leaves him wheezing and light-headed. When his vision clears a bit, he sees the golf cart charging back toward the tree. There is an extension ladder strapped to the roof.

“Shit,” Tommy mutters as he wills himself up the next branch. The security guard is raising the ladder now. It extends about twenty feet up the tree. The top rung of the ladder is only about a foot and a half below the branch where Tommy is perched.

Now the security guard is halfway up the ladder, but the man’s comb over has been badly compromised by the wind gusts. The disproportionately long hair that grows from the right side of his head has wrapped around his face like a blindfold. While the security guard wrestles with the seemingly possessed locks, Tommy tries to shake the lactic acid out of his arms.

The wind shifts again and the security guard’s comb over unfurls like a flag, restoring his vision. Tommy stretches to grab the next branch. He’s got both hands on it.

The security guard is grabbing at Tommy’s pant legs, but Tommy hooks his ankles over the branch so he’s suspended upside down like a tree sloth. He sees the top of the security’s guard’s bald head.  It’s the color of a boiled lobster. The guard’s outstretched hand strains to grab hold of Tommy’s flannel shirt tail.

“You son of a bitch, you can’t hold on forever,” the guard says.

“You’re crazy, man.  Don’t you have a bag of donuts to eat?”

“Oh, that’s original.  You’re goin’ to jail, buddy.”

“I helped plant this tree.  I’m not hurting it.  I’m not hurting anyone,” Tommy says.

The guard looks up at Tommy and squints at him through thick glasses that make his eyes look like blue raisins. “You’re Tommy Sweeney, aren’t you?”

“Eric?  Eric Imarino from Saint Greg’s,” Tommy says. He hasn’t seen Eric since middle school, but he’s absolutely sure it’s his old nemesis.

A sharp crack reports that the load bearing branch has just failed. Tommy is accelerating toward the earth at thirty-two feet per second, per second. He reaches out reflexively and tries to grab something – anything at all. He gets a handful of the security guard’s majestically waving hair.

The security guard lets out a guttural scream as he is snatched from the ladder. He instinctively reaches out and bear hugs Tommy’s torso. They are entangled now, falling as one ponderous octogenarian, instead of two husky-sized middle-aged men. A formidable branch, about as thick as the barrel of a Louisville Slugger, is no match for the mass and momentum of the free falling monstrosity. It is sheared off, leaving behind a splintery, bone white nub.

They impact the ground that has been hardened by three or four early frosts. Tommy hits first, acting like an airbag for Eric.Twenty seconds later Eric opens his eyes. He is lying next to Tommy. Eric wiggles his fingers and toes. Everything seems to work, so he gropes around for his glasses. One of the lenses has popped out, but the other is serviceable. Eric checks his cell phone, but its screen is badly cracked.  It’s inoperable.

Eric crawls over to Tommy’s motionless body and tries to remember what they taught him at that first aid course he had to take to get this shitty job. He checks for a pulse, but he can’t find one. He checks again, but he still can’t find it, and then he remembers the instructor said it’s better to do anything instead nothing, so he starts chest compressions. He hopes everything will turn out like the video from the first aid class that showed some old guy keeling over in a shopping mall, immediately followed by a good Samaritan rolling up his sleeves and saving the day. But Eric is only about a dozen compressions into it, and he already feels winded.

Tommy is looking down at Eric’s bald spot that is still the color of a boiled lobster  He watches Eric push on his chest frantically. At first Tommy believes the Earth is sinking away from him, and then he thinks he’s the one who’s floating away from the Earth. It occurs to him the only important thing to know is that the space between him and terra firma is steadily increasing.

Tommy is as high as the oak is tall.

Now the town looks like toy building blocks.

He crosses into black.

Tommy realizes he’s on the Moon now. He wanders aimlessly, wondering what’s next.  He thinks he might be dead since he left his body on Earth in the big field that belongs to the city of Mayfield Heights now. He doesn’t leave footprints, but as he moves he sees how the fine lunar sand rises off of the surface and reaches for him like spectral fingers. He thinks maybe this happens because he has static electricity. Tommy wonders if ghosts are negatively charged.

In the distance a figure at the foot of a high hill waves to him. He moves closer and he sees that it’s Karen – Karen as he remembers her from the first day of Kindergarten at Saint Gregory’s. She’s wearing a pink dress, her hair is done up in pigtails, and her eyes are big and green.

She motions for Tommy to follow, then runs up the side of the hill.  For a moment, she blinks out of existence, then reappears all the way at the top. Tommy hurries after her, and when he catches up, he sees she is the young woman he remembers right before they left for college.  Her to Cornell, and him to Wisconsin. She’s wearing a white tank top and jeans. Her hair is styled in a short pixie cut now, but her eyes are still green like Peridot. Tommy thinks she looks like a rockstar.

They lean in to kiss, and a little jolt of static electricity sparks when their lips touch. A millisecond later, Tommy’s consciousness is annihilated in a violent burst of energy that pulses outward in a blue flash.

Now Tommy is only aware of darkness. It is quiet and still. The nothingness is so profound it seems to have substance. Gradually, the nothingness begins to disintegrate. Tommy feels tingling in his fingers and toes. He thinks he can hear sounds. It sounds like the slobbery, labored breathing of a bulldog on a July afternoon  He smells something weird. He thinks it might be barbecue potato chips and coffee. Now he’s sure it’s barbeque potato chips and coffee, but he’s not sure if he’s smelling it or tasting it.

Tommy opens his eyes. A wild animal is trying to eat his face. It’s hairy – maybe a bear, or a Yeti. He thinks he must be in Hell. A surge of panic courses through his being and he shoves the beast off of him and scrambles to his feet. Tommy sees that it’s not a wild animal, after all.  It’s Eric, the security guard.  Pee Pee Head Eric from Saint Greg’s Elementary.

“What’s your problem, man?” Tommy says as he wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I was doing rescue breathing,” Eric wheezes. “Just take it easy and lay back down.  You might have internal bleeding, or a spinal injury. We need to call an ambulance.”

“I don’t need a god damn ambulance. I don’t even have health insurance right now.”

“We fell from like twenty feet. I fell right on top of you. You were dead for three or four minutes.”

“You’re just security guard, Eric. You’re not qualified to make that diagnosis,” Tommy says.

“I just saved your life. You’re welcome,” Eric says.

“You’re an imbecile,” Tommy screams. “You’re the lunatic who made me fall in the first place.”

“I was just doin’ my job,” Eric screams back.

Sometime passes in silence. “Are you gonna call the cops?” Tommy finally says.

“No. Anyway my cell phone’s busted. Are you gonna try to sue me?” Eric says.

“No.  I hate lawyers,” Tommy says.

“Me too. Can you help me with this ladder?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Tommy and Eric strap the ladder to the top of the golf cart and pause to examine the branch that was sheared off in the melee.

“That’s pretty big,” Tommy says.

“Yeah,” Eric says.

They both look up to where the branch had been, then back down, then up again.

“You said it was like three or four minutes?” Tommy asks.

“At least. Your face was blue, man. Your eyes were rolled back in your head.  I’m tellin’ you, you were dead.”

“That sounds about right.”

“What was it like?” Eric asks.

“God spoke to me.”

“What did He say?”

“He wanted me to deliver a very important message to you.”

“To me?” Eric says as he makes the sign of the cross. “What? What’s the message?”

“God said that you’re not foolin’ anyone with that ridiculous comb over, and you should just shave your head.”

“You’re such an asshole,” Eric says.

“Takes one to know one,” Tommy says.

They shake hands, and Tommy starts to walk home. It’s just after five, but the bleached Sun is already low in the sky. Long shadows are scrawled across the busy streets and the busy sidewalks – caricatures of the people who cast them. “Or is it the other way around?” Tommy wonders.














Genre writing

daddy longlegs pic

Recently, I was at a party when I was railroaded into a conversation with a pretentious  guy who insisted genre stories could never be seriously regarded as “real” literature.  I’m guessing by “real” he meant substantive.

War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, and A Tale of Two Cities.  Now that’s real literature,” the guy declared as he swirled his wine theatrically.

“So Frankenstein, Slaughterhouse-Five, and War of the Worlds don’t qualify as real literature?” I asked.

“Certainly there are a few exceptions,” he conceded reluctantly before making a hasty retreat to the giant cheese tray at the other end of the room.

Later that night I returned home and read almost a hundred pages of Stephen King’s, Pet Sematary.  I just had the urge to delve into a horror story, perhaps to reinforce my own belief that good literature doesn’t necessarily have to be a grandiose production of a deeply philosophical nature.  Sometimes all you need is some basic insight into the human psyche and a reanimated corpse wielding a scalpel.

So, to celebrate genre writing, I’m going to present a horror story of my own.  I genuinely enjoyed writing this; it was nice to change gears and have some fun.  When it was over I felt refreshed, and I was able to resume my other writing projects with a clearer perspective and renewed vigor. I hope you enjoy it.



Daddy Longlegs Goes Dancing

by Hawkelson Rainier


“We’ve got an outrageously extreme show lined up for you right here with Josh and Brandt on one hundred point seven, WYRU!” the radio screamed loud enough to obliterate Todd’s deep R.E.M sleep.  He opened his eyes, and like most mornings, a profound depression swept over him.  The alarm clock continued to broadcast The Josh and Brandt Show as he searched for the will to get up and turn it off.

“Triple X porn star, Bambi Charmaine, is in studio with us right now,” Josh bellowed, “and she has agreed to kick our long time sound engineer, Jeff Klingensmith, square in the nuts.”      Then Brandt chimed in, “And here it comes folks!  This is so extreme!”

“Oh this is gonna suck,” Jeff added.

Todd finally got out of bed and silenced the babbling alarm clock by throwing it against the wall.  He stumbled to the bathroom and looked in the mirror.  A balding, entry level data processor who hadn’t had a date in over six months stared back at him.

“You’re a loser,” he told his own image. “You’re thirty-three years old and you can’t even grow a real mustache.  What is that on your face, Todd?  Huh?  What is that supposed to be?”   Todd had been cultivating his mustache for more than a year, but it was no more than a gaggle of long, wispy hairs.

He dressed quickly, ran down three flights of stairs, hopped on his moped, and merged into the heavy flow of morning suburban rush hour traffic.  As he pulled into the employee parking lot, his 50 cc engine rumbled with all the fury of several senior citizens clearing their throats in an otherwise quiet high school auditorium. Todd found an open spot, jammed on the brakes, and fishtailed before coming to a stop between the yellow lines.  He sighed and began the long walk across the corporate campus to his cubicle.

A white Porsche suddenly pulled up alongside him, and Todd saw it was Wendy Lamar from marketing.  “Todd, I’m glad I ran into you.  I hope you’re coming to Za Za’s for Stacey’s going away party tonight.”

“Um…no, I wasn’t really planning on it,” Todd confessed.  “Stacey from accounting, or Stacey from human resources?”

“Accounting,” Wendy informed him.  “You know, she thinks you’re really cute, and this might be your last chance to…you know…hook up with her.”

“Stacey from accounting is leaving?” Todd asked.

“You didn’t hear?  She got a job offer from Watson and Wyner in San Fransisco.  It’s a big step up.  You know, Todd, Stacey wanted to invite you, but she was afraid you might reject her.”

“Why would she think that?” he asked.  The fact was, Todd always had a thing for Stacey in accounting.  He never missed an opportunity to notice how the trace scent of her perfume lingered after she left a room.  As it turns out, there’s a fine line between noticing the trace scent of somebody’s perfume and pressing your face into the seat of her swivel chair a few seconds after she vacates it.  It’s a subtle difference, but one that almost cost Todd his job.  He was still on probation for that little incident.

“You just seem distant sometimes, Todd.  Probably because you’re involved with so many other women, but it makes the girls around the office feel inferior and trite,” Wendy explained.

“I never meant to be distant, or anything like that,” Todd countered.

“Look, it’s water under the bridge as far as I’m concerned,” and Wendy extended her hand through the open window of her Porsche to show she was being genuine.

Todd shook it, and said, “Water under the bridge.  Right.”

“So you’ll be there tonight?” Wendy asked earnestly.

“Where is it again?”

“It’s at Za Za’s in Oceanside.  Be there at 7:30. We have a private room reserved in the back.”

“Like a V.I.P room?” Todd asked.

“Exactly a V.I.P room,” Wendy said.

“They might not let me into the V.I.P room,” Todd said.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to put your name on the list.”

“Well, okay then.  See you at 7:30,” Todd said.

“Remember, dress to impress,” Wendy yelled as she gunned the engine and the Porsche took off like a white stallion.

Around 11:30 AM a horrifying question erupted in Todd’s mind like a warehouse full of propane.  “Is there going to be any dancing involved?”  He was absolutely terrified of expressing himself through movement.  It seemed vulgar and primitive, and besides, he had no rhythm, balance, or grace.  He consulted Youtube on this most pressing matter, and found a very promising tutorial titled, How To Do The Macarena.  Not wanting to draw the ire of his boss, Todd muted the video and went through the motions a dozen times.  He committed the routine to memory, and got back to his Excel spreadsheet.




-Wendy and Stacey Take a Smoke Break-


“Come on, just a little hit,” Wendy said as she waved a burning joint in front of Stacey’s face.  “It’s your last day.  You need to lighten up a little.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Stacey conceded.  “It’s not like they can fire me.”  She took a healthy drag and doubled over in a coughing fit.

“My pot dealer, Eddy Spaghetti, said it’s from his own personal stash,” Wendy boasted.  “He said his half brother’s brother-in-law grows it in Hawaii, like in some kind of jungle or something.  Then, he sneaks it into San Diego on a tuna boat.”  Wendy took a hearty puff, passed it back to Stacey who hit it again, and the ritual continued like that for a minute or two.

“What tuna boat?” Stacey asked in between coughs.

“What?” Wendy asked back.

“You said tuna boat before,” Stacey observed.

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Who has a tuna boat?”

“Eddy Spaghetti’s half brother’s brother-in-law, I think.  He sneaks it in to San Diego from Hawaii,” Wendy said.

“You shouldn’t eat tuna,” Stacey advised.

“Why not?” Wendy inquired.

“It has mercury in it.  And plus they kill the dolphins.”

“The tuna kill the dolphins?” Wendy asked.

“No, they get stuck in the tuna nets and die.  It’s so sad,” Stacey lamented.

“So sad,” Wendy parroted.  Her head began to fill with a syrupy haze that pushed all of her thoughts out, and then the haze evaporated, and a little particle of laughter materialized in the void.   The particle began to inflate at an exponential rate until it erupted in a supernova of hilarity, and a shock wave permeated outward from Wendy and swept across Stacey’s consciousness, annihilating every last rational thought in her head too.  A fit of laughter seized them, and they fell to the ground and rolled around in their smart business skirts and held their sides and stomachs to prevent anything from rupturing.  Eventually, they were able to compose themselves.

“Jesus, that’s not like any joint I’ve smoked before,” Stacey finally said.

“Yeah, me either,” Wendy concurred.  An uncomfortable silence settled over them, and the two shifted around on their shapely legs and checked their hair and makeup in little pink pocket mirrors.

“Guess who I talked to this morning?” Wendy offered.


“Daddy Longlegs.”

“What?  You mean, Todd?” Stacey asked.

“Yep,” Wendy said.  “I invited him to the party tonight.”

“Wendy, what were you thinking?  You know I caught him smelling my chair once.”

“We had a bet, Stacey.  Now it’s time to pay up.”

“No, no, no,” Stacey protested, “We were at Ashleigh Lund’s bachelorette party and I don’t even remember that night…”

“Let me refresh your memory,” Wendy interrupted.  “You said your interview at Watson and Wyner went horribly, and there was no way you were gonna get the job.  I said that you were exaggerating, and I bet that you would get the job.  We agreed if you won the bet, I’d take you out shopping, and If I won the bet, you had to get the scoop on Todd’s package.”

“No, I was too drunk when I made the bet, so it’s not official,” Stacey said.

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.  I was wasted when we were in Acapulco and you dared me to pretend I was drowning so the life guard would rescue me.”

“You were gonna fuck, Juan, anyway,” Stacey argued.

“Look, I’m not saying you have to sleep with Todd.  I’m just saying you have to get a peek at his package and tell me if it’s really as big as Kevin Levine said it is,” Wendy insisted.

“Why does Kevin Levine have insight into Todd’s package, anyway?” Stacey asked.

“You know Kevin’s out of the closet, right?”

“Yeah,” Stacey said.

“Well, one day he was standing at the urinal next to Daddy Longlegs, and curiosity got the best of him. He snuck a little peek.”

“And Kevin says it’s big?” Stacey asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Big isn’t the word Kevin used.  I think he used the term, Loch Ness Monster,” Wendy raved.

“All right,” Stacey said with a little smirk, “I’ll see what I can do.”


-Dressed to Kill-

That evening, Todd arrived at Za Za’s forty-five minutes early, but hid in a back alley for an hour and fifteen minutes so he could show up fashionably late.  At precisely Eight o’ clock, Todd approached a large man who guarded the entrance to the V.I.P room with the stoic determination of a Roman sentinel.

“Yeah?” the sentinel said as he sized up the balding man with the prepubescent mustache who was clad in white jeans, an aqua sports coat, a slightly darker aqua shirt, and brown penny loafers that smelled vaguely of dog shit.

“I’m expected in the V.I.P room,” Todd explained.

“Sorry, you have to be on the list to get in there,” the sentinel said.

“Wendy said she would put me on the list.  My name is, Todd.”

The sentinel brought his clipboard close to his face and scrolled down a long column of names.  He was surprised to see that a Todd, did in fact, appear on the list.  There was a parenthetical notation scrawled next to Todd’s name.  It looked like a woman’s handwriting, and it read, “Goofy looking guy.”

“Yep, you’re on the list,” the sentinel said as he moved aside so Todd could pass.

Todd stepped into the expansive V.I.P room and bass from the heavy house music shook his bones.

“I was afraid you weren’t coming,” Wendy said as she took him by the arm and pulled him over to the bar.  “You’re late, and you have a lot of catching up to do.”

“What do you need?” the bartender asked over the droning beat of the omnipresent house music.  Todd was about to order a ginger ale when Stacey suddenly appeared in a short, black skirt and a trendy white silk halter top.  She greeted him with a very cordial hug.

“Todd, I’m so glad you could make it,” she said.

“Yeah, thanks.  And congratulations on the big job,” he said.

“Oh, thank you so much.  Be sure to order the good stuff because Wendy is picking up the tab tonight.”

“Okay,” Todd said as he surveyed the assortment of liquor bottles that filled the shelves behind the bar.  “I’ll have a double Jack Daniels, straight up,” he announced.

Todd held the drink at waist level, horrified by the volatile vapors that wafted up from the brown liquid.  Stacey seemed to be watching him, perhaps even studying him, searching for a sign of weakness.  Todd knew that women like Stacey were only interested in the alpha male, and a double shot of Jack Daniels was exactly the kind of thing an alpha male would drink.  The effect, if you can imagine, was something like being kicked in the stomach by a donkey hard enough to explode a nest of hornets that had previously colonized your abdominal cavity.

“All right, Todd!” Stacey howled like a college girl gone wild, “Let’s do it again.”  Before he could protest, he had another helping of liquid mustard gas in his hand, and he clicked his glass against hers, threw it down, and waited for the sensation to hit him the way a condemned man waits for the firing squad to carry out his death sentence.  To his surprise, it seemed that the whiskey had lost much of its sting the second time around.  It occurred to him that drinking was easy.

Todd put his arm around Stacey and said, “Wanna dance,” and he grabbed her by the arm and strutted out toward the dance floor where he immediately encountered some technical difficulties.  The Macarena seemed severely incompatible with the pulsing house music, and the presence of so many other people hindered his efforts even further.

“Hey, jerk, what’s your problem?” a big man in a tank top exclaimed when Todd inadvertently crashed into him during an exceptionally passionate sequence of moves.

“You want some of me?” Todd bellowed, and he assumed a ninja stance.  The man grabbed Todd by the aqua sports coat, lifted him off of the ground, and tossed him down like a bag of dirty laundry.  Stacey screamed, and Todd knew it was critical that he assert himself as the alpha male.  He decided to stay low, so he scuttled toward the big man like a rabid crab and bit down hard on the guy’s ankle bone.  The big man yelped, lost his balance, and an avalanche of pecs, biceps, and ripped abs pinned Todd to the dance floor.  He struggled to breath, and was relieved when somebody lifted him from the carnage.

But Todd’s relief didn’t last as he soon realized it was, in fact, Tank Top Guy who had lifted him up, and continued to lift him until he was raised high over his head.  The big man let out a growl that seemed more grizzly bear than human, and launched Todd into the air.  Dancers scattered in all directions as the incoming Todd rained down upon them, and he hit the deck with as much grace as a duck stung out of the sky with a 12-gauge.

“Stacey,” Todd called out, “Stacey, where are you?”

“I’m right here you imbecile,” she hissed.  During the chaos, a waitress had dumped a tray of wine glasses filled with Merlot all over her trendy, white silk halter top.


Several bouncers swarmed in to investigate the situation.  “What’s going on here?” one of them demanded.  It was the no-necked sentinel who had been guarding the V.I.P entrance.

“That guy right there started all this shit,” Stacey said, and she leveled a trembling index finger at the prostrate Todd.  The bouncer grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him to a maintenance door somewhere in the bowels of the building.  “Stay the hell out!” he yelled as he tossed Todd into the alley.


-Tuna Fish Delight-


Todd sat on a milk crate in the middle of the ally and tried to pin point where things went so wrong.  “What a loser,” he mumbled to himself.  “You’re pathetic.”

“Who you talkin’ to, man?” a shadowy figure said.

Todd jumped up and held his hands high over his head in surrender.  “I don’t have any money,” he whined.

“Dude, relax.  I’m just back here to hit this joint,” the shadowy figure explained.

Todd didn’t say anything.  He sat back down on the milk crate and closed his eyes.

“You don’t look so good,” the man observed.

“I don’t feel so good,” Todd said.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.


“Todd, I’m Eddy.  My friends call me, Eddy Spaghetti.  I don’t know why.  Probably just ‘cause it rhymes.”  He extended his hand, and Todd shook it.  “Are you here for Stacey’s party?” he asked.

“I was, but I got in a fight and the bouncer threw me out,” Todd explained.

“Sorry to hear that, bro.  You wanna hit this joint with me?” Eddy asked.

“I don’t know,” Todd said.

“Come on, bro.  This stuff is killer.  It’s from my own personal stash ― imported from Hawaii.  I call it, Tuna Fish Delight.”  Eddy Spaghetti took a big hit and made muffled choking sounds, and exhaled a billowing cloud like a cooling tower at a nuclear power plant.

“All right,” Todd conceded, “I’ll try it.”  He held the joint to his lips and inhaled.  It was like breathing fiber glass, and he was afraid he might cough up a vital organ.

“Now you’re smokin’,” Eddy said, and he took another hit to celebrate.

“I don’t feel anything,” Todd said.

“Is it your first time?”


“Then you might not feel anything your first time.  It took me three times to feel something.”

“Oh,” Todd said, a bit disappointed.

“Here, hit it a few more times and see if you get anything off it.”

“Okay,” Todd agreed.  He and Eddy Spaghetti repeated the process several more times.

“Do you feel anything?” Eddy asked, “Because I am baked out of my fuckin’ mind.  You know, my half brother’s brother-in-law grows this shit in like a jungle in Hawaii where there was a really gnarly battle with King Kamehameha and all these warriors fuckin’ hackin’ each other up with knives and clubs and shit.”

“Geeze,” Todd remarked.

“Yeah,” Eddy continued, “it was like hundreds of years ago, and he says that fuckin’ place is haunted ‘till this day, man.  He says so much blood spilled in that jungle that it did somethin’ to the soil there, and that’s why this bud is so gnarly, man.  He says if you’re in a bad frame of mind, bro, you shouldn’t even smoke this shit because it’s kind of like smoking the ghosts of all those dead warriors.  I guess one day he was gettin’ shit from his boss, and his old lady, and his kid, and he went out back and sparked up some of this bud to help him relax.  He said some crazy shit happened then.”

“Like what?” Todd said.

“He wouldn’t say.  He just said it was . . .like . . . some crazy shit.  But I think that’s all bullshit, bro. He can’t even handle his own weed, is what I think.”

“Wait, I feel something now,” Todd announced.

“Yeah?  Are you high, dude?  Dude, are you high?”

Todd shook his head yes.

“Man, you have one gnarly mustache, by the way,” Eddy said.  “My friend, Wendy, tells me about this guy she knows from work.  Daddy Longlegs is what everyone calls him because his mustache looks like someone pulled all the legs off a daddy longlegs and glued them to his top lip.  That’s what your mustache looks like, bro.  You should shave that fuckin’ thing off.”

“Daddy Longlegs?” Todd said.  It all became so clear to him then.  Wendy had invited him to the party so everyone could stare at him like some curiosity in a traveling freak show.  Anger surged through him, and he began to quiver as if his bones had turned to jelly.

“Dude, bro, are you alright?” Eddy wanted to know.

Todd fell off of the milk crate and curled into the fetal position.  Eddy Spaghetti rushed to his side and saw that his eyes were rolled back in his head.  “This is bad, dude, this is definitely bad,” Eddy said.  Todd curled his arms and legs in tighter and tighter, until his torso had absorbed all four limbs, and his head began to sink inward, like it was being swallowed by his own neck.

“Oh dude, oh dude, oh dude this is beyond bad, this is so way far beyond bad,” Eddy ranted.  All that was left of Todd was a roughly spherical mass, about four feet in diameter.  The mass was flesh colored, and it was all tangled up in white denim, and aqua colored polyester.  A pair of brown loafers lay off to the side, and Eddy picked one of them up and examined it.  “Dog shit,” he diagnosed, and set the shoe back down.

The thing that used to be Todd began rock back and forth, like a giant egg about to hatch, and Eddy Spaghetti stepped back a good distance.  A spindly leg, about the thickness of a broom stick, poked through the fleshy mass with an audible pop, like when you bite through the tough casing of a bratwurst.  There were seven more pops, and seven more legs sprouted out of the thing.  “Jesus, those legs gotta be twenty feet long,” Eddy estimated.  And then it dawned on him.  “Holy shit, it’s a daddy longlegs,” he whispered, and he began to back down the alley slowly.  “Dude, I swear to God, I’m never smoking pot again,” he vowed.

Daddy Longlegs looked at Eddy Spaghetti with two close set eyes that resembled a couple of large walnuts.  “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit it sees me,” Eddy said.  It seemed like a long time, but Daddy Longlegs turned its gaze from Eddy and began to climb up the alley wall.  Its front legs stretched all three stories to the roof of Club Za Za while its back legs were still on the ground, and it proceeded to march up the brick facade with a mechanical gate.

“Man, this is killer weed,” Eddy declared as he sparked up another joint and took a good toke.  “Killer,” he reiterated.


-In the Lair of the Very Important People-


Daddy Longlegs stayed on the roof and waited until the sun finished setting, then it climbed down the front of the building, deliberately moving through shadows.  A considerable line of people had formed outside of Za Za’s, and everyone was too busy texting their BFFs to notice a monster had descended into their collective world.

Daddy Longlegs cleared a path for itself by batting twenty or thirty people aside with a single swipe of its forward leg.  It advanced into the club, and people in trendy outfits scrambled to get out of its way.  The large sentinel who still dutifully guarded the sacred entrance to the V.I.P room looked up from his clipboard to see what all the commotion was about, and Daddy Longlegs accelerated with the suddenness and power of a Corvette.  The guard only had enough time to cover his face with the all-important clipboard before the thing trampled him into a quivering, unconscious heap.   Daddy Longlegs slowed back down to a walk as it made its way into the lair of the very important people.

The house deejay had the music blaring by now, and party-goers moved in jerky fits and starts in the fractured waves of the strobe light.  The unworldly creature blended in quite nicely with the unworldly environment, picking its way gracefully through the crowd on those long, skinny legs.  It was able to make its way all the way onto the dance floor before a significant number of people acknowledged its presence with wild screams.

Daddy Longlegs scanned the floor with his beady eyes until he found the big guy in the tank top.  He was dancing with Stacey, who had since discarded her wine stained halter top and was sporting a strapless, white brazier.  She must have mistaken the crowd’s “shit your pants” type of screaming for the “spring break, let’s go wild” type of screaming, because she raised her arms over her head and yelled, “Wooooooooooo!  I’m Soooooooooooo Wasted!”

The big man in the tank top was too mesmerized by Stacey’s bouncing boobs to notice that Daddy Longlegs was closing in on him with a pair of spindly, articulated appendages that protruded from its face like little tyrannosaurus arms.  When it was in range, those skinny arms reached out and seized the man in a bear hug, and then stuffed him into its alien looking mouth.

Stacey finally caught on, and her screams turned into the “shit your pants” kind as she watched Daddy Longlegs devour her one night stand with deliberate pulverizing motions, the way people used to grind maize between stones.  The big man in the tank top was conscious for much of process, and he howled as his flesh and bones were crushed into pulp, and then the howling became more of a gurgling, and then he made no sound at all as the last of him disappeared into the creature.

Stacey scrambled toward the exit along with the rest of the very important people, and when she got to the bottleneck, she looked over her shoulder to see if the thing was about to snatch her up too.  But the creature was standing all alone, its body slung low, suspended only about two feet above the dance floor by legs that could have raised it through the ceiling had they taken a notion to unfold, and Daddy Longlegs began to wiggle and gyrate to the beat of the thumping house music.




Word Economy

hanging treeWhen I was in high school my English teacher had us read, Moby Dick.  The next book assigned was, The Great Gatsby.  His plan was simple: Get the class acquainted with two of the great American novelists, and present two significantly different writing styles.  While Melville’s story came to life through densely worded, intensely descriptive passages, Fitzgerald drove his narrative forward at breakneck speed with highly streamlined language.

Moby Dick weighed in just over 206,000 words, while The Great Gatsby was right around 47,000.  Interestingly, I wouldn’t say the former is too wordy, nor would I say the latter is lacking in substance.

It’s not exactly an apples to apples comparison, as Melville was a 19th century author, and Fitzgerald’s work was a product of the early 20th century. Certainly the English language is constantly in flux.  The 1900’s ushered in the Industrial Revolution, and perhaps the faster pace of life contributed to the demand for a faster paced novel.  Whatever the reason, and likely there were many of them, I have always found something very appealing about the concise, direct use of language in storytelling.

You can imagine how amped up I was when I finally found out about Raymond Carver (who was likely influenced by Fitzgerald and Hemingway).  I was a sophomore in college by then, and I was fascinated by his writing.  Talk about word economy.  Carver had an extraordinary ability to convey immense feeling in a few paragraphs. The trick, it turns out, is to omit any detail that is not absolutely necessary to the story – sometimes even omitting much of the story itself. Scholars sometimes refer to this writing technique as, The Tip of the Iceberg.  The reader is presented with only a minimum amount of information above the surface, but he or she understands the vast majority of the substance must exist below the surface.  The reader is then free to inject their own meaning into the sparse framework of the narrative, resulting in a highly personalized experience.

It’s not an easy technique to pull off, and in my opinion, Carver is the undisputed champion of this writing style.  If you’re not familiar with him, check out some of his work: Cathedral, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, and A Serious Talk are good stories to start with.  I have read his work dozens of times now, and I take away something new from his stories each and every time.

Some years ago, as an exercise in creative writing, I attempted a short story in the spirit of Raymond Carver.  Since the whole point of this blog is to reach out to others interested in creative writing, I am going to include the story beneath this post.  It contains typical Carver themes: A fractured relationship, drinking/substance abuse, and marginalized people.  I tried my best to omit everything that is not critical to the narrative, while still giving the reader just enough direction to find their way out of the woods.  At least that was the goal I had in mind.  As always, questions and comments are welcome.






The Search For a New Spice Route

by Hawkelson Rainier




“You know what your problem is?” Al asked, stirring his vodka and cranberry.

“What’s my problem?” Phil asked back.

“You need to get laid,” he said as he produced a pen from his coat and jotted down a name and a number on a bar napkin. “Here. This girl’s good. Her name’s Nikki, with two k’s. Tell her I referred you.”

“Jesus, Al, I don’t know.”

“What don’t you know?”

“I’ve never had a hooker before,” Phil whispered.

“Good. Hookers are filthy animals – this is a call girl. Very classy. Very hot.”


“You’re welcome. And that reminds me,” Al said, straightening his tie.  “I can’t keep the ladies waiting much longer.”

“All right, see you Monday.”

“Take care of yourself, Phil. Maybe you should request some time off now that things have slowed down in our department.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.”

“And call that number,” he yelled over his shoulder as he turned up his collar and walked into dying autumn afternoon.

Phil knocked back his single malt and made the short walk home.  After almost an hour, he dialed the number.

“Hello,” a woman’s voice said.

“Hi, Nikki?”

“Yes. Can I help you?”

“I was wondering if you’re free this evening.”

“I have an opening. Are you alone?”


“Because I only see one guy at a time.”

“I’m alone.”

“What’s your name?”


“How’d you get this number, Phil?”

“My colleague from work. His name’s, Al.”

“Oh, Allen.  He’s a real trip, huh?”

“Yeah.  Sure.”

“All right, where should I meet you?”

Phil gave her directions to his apartment.

“It’s three hundred for the hour,” she said.

“That’s fine.”


“I have cash.”

“Is eight thirty good?” she asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“All right. See you then, honey.”

“See you then.”


At ten to nine Nikki rang the buzzer from the front lobby.

“Come on up,” Phil said.  “It’s apartment 421.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Nikki said as she stepped inside.  “It’s really raining out there, and traffic was a mess.”

“It’s okay. Here’s the money,” Phil said as he fumbled with his wallet.

“Just put it on the table, baby. You haven’t done this before, have you?”


“Just relax. I’m going to freshen up in the bathroom. Can you pour a couple of drinks?”

“Do you like wine?”

“I love wine.”

Nikki kissed Phil on the cheek and took the money into the bathroom with her. She came out with her hair down, and they sat on the couch trying to manufacture conversation while sipping a nice Cabernet Sauvignon. After their glasses were empty, she ran her fingers through his hair.

“How do you want me?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Tell me, baby. This is your fantasy.

“I just want somebody to talk to.”

“You should have called a shrink – it would have been cheaper. So, what’s botherin’ you?”

“My wife.  She left me.  Fourteen years, and she just packed up and left.”

“I’ll never understand people,” Nikki said.

“I thought she was happy.  She said she still loved me, but there was no passion anymore.  I don’t know what she expected.  I worked hard.  I bought her a big house, a nice car, jewelry.”

“How was your love life?” Niki asked.

“It was great, at first.  Like in any marriage.  But you get into a routine, you know?”

“Yeah.  It’s hard to keep the spice,” Nikki concurred.

“Exactly,” Phil said.  “Did she think every night was going to be like our honey moon in Hawaii?”

“A lot of women think it’s a fairy tale.  The white dress, slow dancing, a beautiful cake by the Champagne fountain. They never think about what comes after.”

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said.

“You want me to leave?”

“I don’t mean that.  I just want out.  I want out of everything, but I’m a fucking coward,” Phil said as he stood and shattered his wine glass against the faux fireplace.

“You’re startin’ to scare me. I think I’m gonna get goin’.” Nikki backed away and grabbed her purse off the end table. She kept a snub nose .38 revolver in there. If he came after her she’d empty the entire cylinder into him.

“I don’t blame you.  I know I seem crazy,” he said as he collapsed back onto the couch.

Nikki sat down next to him and rubbed his shoulders. “I don’t think you’re crazy.  You’re just lonely.”

“Thank you.  You’re very kind to listen to all this.”

“I’ve got other appointments tonight,” Nikki whispered in his ear, “so if you want anything else let me know now, okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“What are you afraid of?”

“I’m not afraid. It’s just . . .”

“Just what?” She undid his belt buckle with one hand, effortlessly, like a master pick pocket. The button and the zipper went next. “Now that I have your attention, why don’t we go to the bedroom.”

“I’d like that,” he said.


Afterward, Nikki listened to Phil breath as he slept. He didn’t stir when she got out of bed and dressed in the half dark. She filled her wine glass and dissolved twenty pills into the blood red liquid.  She drank it down as the rain wept against the windows.

Phil didn’t feel the cold muzzle of the .38 as she pressed it gently against his temple. She held it there a long time – maybe a minute.  “I’m sorry,” she finally whispered, “I can’t help you.”

Nikki put the money in the nightstand drawer and left quietly through the front door. She drove until she found the freeway and parked on the shoulder.  The chemicals began to pull her under, like a leviathan dragging a ship into the dark fathoms.


Phil woke late the next morning.  The rain had stopped and the sun was out.  He felt pretty good so he fried up a few eggs.  Then he splashed on some Tabasco for a little extra spice.









Let’s Start With The Glottal Stop

teeth2Back in college, when grunge had only recently displaced the hair bands as alpha dog on the music scene, I found myself at a typical keg party on a Friday night.  There was a guy there who had taken a really potent tab of acid – a soul shredder.  He kept rambling about giant teeth, and insisting Mr. T was Satan.  Everybody assumed he was talking about the actor with the mohawk and gold chains who had played Clubber Lang in Rocky III.  Eventually the guy’s girlfriend had to take him home, presumably to weather the storm in a quiet dorm room.

The following Monday I was in my least favorite class, Linguistics 401.  It was as dry and as technical as an English course could get.  I remember thinking how the whole point of being an English major was to avoid dry, technical courses.  The professor passionately scribbled the definition of a Glottis across the board: The part of the larynx consisting of the vocal cords and the slit like opening between them. She segued right into the Glottal Stop, which turned out to be: A consonant formed by the audible release of the airstream after complete closure of the glottis.  As an interesting side note, she pointed out that English speakers with a Cockney accent tend to replace the /t/ phoneme with a glottal stop in instances when the /t/ precedes a weak vowel, e.g., Water = Wa’er, and Butter = Bu’er.

“Yeah, that’s frickin’ fascinating,” I thought.  At least I thought I thought it, but the girl sitting next to me gave me a dirty look, so I really must have mumbled it. Embarrassed, I gave her a little wave because I didn’t know what else to do.  In return, she gave me a very condescending, toothy smile.

At that moment, I sensed something profound was close at hand, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint it.  Then it hit me like a battering ram: The /t/ phoneme, the toothy smile, giant teeth, the dude on acid wasn’t talking about Mr. T with the mohawk and gold chains who played Clubber Lang in Rocky III.  He was talking about Mr. T with tall teeth from the Letter People!

If you don’t know about the Letter People, I’ll get you up to speed.  Back in the ’70s schools began to implement a children’s literacy curriculum that was based on twenty-six characters – one for each letter of the alphabet.  The teacher would wheel in the cart with the T.V. set, and then you’d have to sit there and watch these puppets run around and sing songs about letters and the sounds they make.  It was pretty horrible.  Mr. H, with the horrible hair.  You get the point.

The puppets were crudely designed – like the entire budget was ten bucks, and they only spent 7.50 of it. While they all looked a little off, Mr. T looked certifiably insane.  His lips were stretched way back, unable to cover the massive teeth that spanned about two-thirds of his orange, roughly rectangular torso. The guy from the party had kept that memory of the demonic puppet with the tall teeth buried somewhere in his psyche since kindergarten until he unwittingly resurrected it with about 200 micrograms of a chemical that was derived from a fungus that infects cereal grains. Crazy.

To be fair, the Letter People did what they were supposed to do.  Through them, I learned the the fundamentals of the English language.  I remember how the teacher would make us read flash cards in class, and if you read it right you’d get one point.  Five points got you a lolly pop.  Ten points earned you a Hershey’s Bar.  I was one of three kids who won a Hershey’s Bar.  I split it with my buddy on the bus ride home.  He only managed to get two points.

When I got to my room I ate the last piece of chocolate and thought about the flash cards.  The word that got me the all important tenth point was, Bug.  I could see it in my mind very clearly.  I got a pencil and a piece of paper out of my book bag and wrote the word, Bug. It seemed like a big deal to be able to write down symbols that made a word that other people would understand.  I sensed there was great power in writing.  And I knew I wanted to learn to write more words.

I suppose this blog is another manifestation of that desire to write more words. But I think it’s more than that.  Most of my writing has been a solitary endeavor, but now,  I concede that one’s writing needs to be read by an audience in order to have any real meaning. Otherwise it’s just ink on paper, or pixels on a screen.

So, I thank you for granting me an audience.  Feel free to leave a comment, or ask a question. I’ll try to put something out once or twice a week.