Category Archives: writing

Note to the piano movers

First, thanks so much for coming during the hurricane. As I told Big Al on the phone, the upright piano in the dining room needs to be moved into one of three upstairs rooms.

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Ignore the dog

I am talking about the Steinway, not the Baldwin, which is slated for destruction and may already be rigged with explosives. The first and best option for the Steinway upright (please do not move the Steinway grand) is the bedroom in the southwest corner of the west wing of the second floor. Take precise measurements of the hallway before you start. Of particular concern is the sharp left zig-zag leading to the small stairs. Remove the handrail but under no circumstances are you to destroy it – nothing should be destroyed unless you receive instructions from me to the contrary. If you are able to navigate the west wing stairs, hallways, and hairpin turns place the piano along the south wall. As always, before moving the piano, please check inside for dead animals.

Should the southwest second floor bedroom prove inaccessible, try the north tower. Again: measure, measure, measure. You may use my husband Derek’s surveying tools as long as you wipe your fingerprints from them when you return them to cold storage. The round tower stairway may prove tricky, however, I have every confidence in your abilities. If needed, you may construct and install a suitable winch which should be removed upon successful completion of the move. Place the piano in the exact center of the tower facing west so that my daughter Ezmerine can play her little concertos at sunset, her only real joy. If you see Ezmerine, please do not comment on or make notice of her nudity. Though she is a free spirit, she is very touchy on the subject. On second thought, the tower is the first choice.

If options one or two fail, then as a last result, use the east by northeast drawing room. I don’t think any explanation is needed here as I’m sure one of the first two options, particularly number two, which is now to be considered first. If this third option is even a consideration, contact me on my fourth mobile phone. Big Al should have briefed you, but phone #1 is for my husband and family; #2 is for my agent and attorneys; #3 is for my current lover, Geoffrey, although it’s possible that Antoine, Isabella, or Gert may still have that number as I haven’t blocked their calls yet. Just in case. So, cell phone #4 only. #5 is for my aftermarket medicinal supplier.

Anyway, it’s a small job and I expect you to be finished in under an hour. Help yourself to the special brownies as you leave. Should the access road to the house be under water due to the hurricane, you may wait out the storm in your truck.

TTFN,

Violetta Cheesegrater-Fencepost

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The first shots fired in a long war

Today, we’re on a break from the detective story. That doesn’t mean that the writing team has no idea where the story is going. Just that something urgent popped into the inbox this morning. See below for details:

A few years ago I purchased a DropCam mostly so the family could observe our then new dog when she was home alone, and scare the bejeezus out of her through the remote mic whenever she got into something she shouldn’t.

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Anyway, Nest acquired DropCam awhile ago… and while that isn’t too much of a big deal, every now and then they try some shenanigans like this here email which arrived today:

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I was almost lulled into inaction by the cheerful, apologetic, chatty tone of the email. “What a nice note,” I thought. “They’ve given me the option of ignoring it. How thoughtful. I love ignoring things…”

Then the caffeine kicked in and the sense that I was being wronged by a faceless entity started rising up from deep within. Error or no error, I want my free Video History. I paid for it and it’s mine. Right is right.

Essentially, they were telling me that they “accidentally” provided a free service and now that service was no longer free. Well… I sent the following email response:

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That should clear things up! Questions for you, the above average* reader: Is this an overreaction? An underreaction? A just right reaction? I don’t know, but justice must be served.

Continue reading The first shots fired in a long war

Inspected by #4

It was the mid-90s and you could still run full tilt through an airport without fuss and arrive at a gate just before the door closed. I’d already missed my connection for any one of the usual reasons, and this was the last flight leaving Pittsburgh for Philadelphia. And somehow there was one ticket left, a middle seat to carry my sleepy body to beautiful snowbound Philadelphia, barely an hour away. I was elated.

Arriving at my designated row, I nodded to the seat, and the woman occupying it, rather than standing to let me pass, simply slid over to the middle seat, the most noble gesture one traveler can make for another. “No, that’s very kind. Please, the aisle seat is yours,” I said, indicating that she should not make this sacrifice for me, a commoner.

“Sit down,” she said, and patted the seat. “You have long legs and I…don’t.”

“Sir,” the flight attendant said. “Please have a seat so we can take off.” I did, stuffing my laptop bag under the seat.

“Thank you,” I said. “That’s really the nicest thing anyone’s done for me. I can’t believe I even got a seat on this flight. I missed my connection. Bad weather in Chicago. This was the last flight.” I was babbling, my heart still pounding from my run through Pittsburgh International, my face slick with sweat.

“You’re welcome. You have my traveling companion’s seat. He couldn’t make it.”

“Oh, well, that’s too bad.”

“He couldn’t find his ID and they wouldn’t let him through security.”

“His bad luck certainly worked out for me!” I was still wound up and I was talking too loud.

“Well, here’s the really funny part. When he wasn’t looking, I took his driver’s license out of his wallet. I have it right here in my purse.”

“Get out…really?”

“I’ve been trying to get rid of him, but we made plans for this trip ages ago. Despite my protests, he insisted on coming. Know what else?”

I threw my hands up, then said, “You took his car keys too.”

“Yes. How did you guess?”

“That’s what I would have done.”

She laughed. “He was abusive. With me.”

“Oh.” I looked down, as if to atone for the guilt of all abusive men. “Physically…psychologically…?”

“It doesn’t matter. Just abuse. So, you have someone picking you up? In Philly?”

“Oh, no, my car’s there. She doesn’t do airports.”

“Your girlfriend?”

“My girlfriend.”

“Do you like her?”

“I don’t think she likes me all that much. She’s cold with me. It’s not nearly as good a story as yours. Not that abuse is good… I mean…”

She laughed again. “I understand. You don’t have to say anything else about her.”

She folded her arms across her chest and yawned. “I’m going to try to sleep the rest of the way, if that’s OK.”

Of course it’s OK. We were strangers. She didn’t owe me a conversation. I picked up the inflight magazine and in a few minutes my eyes glazed over and I too fell asleep.

When the plane started to descend I woke up. She was still asleep turned toward me, her head on my shoulder, a hand on my chest, all perfectly naturally. I tried not to move. In awhile, the cabin lights brightened and something dinged and she stirred,  realizing she was leaning on me.

“We’re here?”

“Soon.”

“Oh, I think I drooled on you.” She leaned back away from me. “Thanks for letting me drool on your shirt.”

“You’re welcome. Thanks for the aisle seat.”

“You’re welcome.”

“What are you going to do when you get back to Pittsburgh? He’ll be angry.”

“Likely I’ll have him killed.”

“Seems like the only course of action.”

“Maybe you’d kill him for me?”

“Maybe you’d give me your phone number?”

“Certainly not if you’re not going to bump off my ex.”

“Tit for tat…so that’s how it’s going to be.”

We both laughed. The plane landed. I handed her bag down to her and said goodbye. After getting off the jetway, I turned around and saw a couple hugging her. Parents?

I stopped at a phone booth to call the girlfriend. Let her know I’d arrived and that I’d be going back to my apartment. It was late. See her tomorrow maybe. I rummaged my pockets looking for change. Nothing. Nothing but the “Inspected by #4” slip of paper in my shirt pocket. I always leave them in just in case there’s a spot shirt inspection. All I have to do is produce the little slip with its block lettering, and voila, no shirt inspection. I took it out to have a reassuring peek, and there on the other side, neatly written in blue, a phone number.

I rolled my carry-on to the bus that takes me to longterm parking. She climbed into the back of a Saab 4- door, glanced up and saw me in the bus window. She smiled, raised a hand, index finger pointed, thumb up. Bang bang.

Ovellyn (Day 1033)

An eleven year old Ovelynn stoops down and speaks into a camera. Her freckled face takes up almost the entire field of view. She is so excited that it takes her a moment to catch her breath. “Hello…” and she takes a few quick breaths. “Hello world!” she says. “Oh my god, I’m hyperventilating!”

She scoots back a step or so and we can see that she is in an open field. She waves again. “I’m Ovvy!” She fiddles with her long pig tail. “OK, um, you can go up.”

We see the perspective change and now the the camera is at Ovelynn’s face level. “But just a little bit. OK! That’s enough!” The camera pans up and down as if nodding, allowing us to see all of Ovvy. She’s dressed in overalls that stop at her calves, work boots with pink socks, a blue T-shirt that we can’t read. She has reddish brown hair that is tied in a pony tail.

Behind her the open field is neat rows of something green just starting to sprout from the soil. We can see a water tower and a silo, and a long line of fencing off in the distance. The camera is wide angle so it’s difficult for us to judge how far everything is, and it is attached to a quadcopter and it can rotate a full 360 degrees. Built for use by police departments, the copter is equipped with a speaker and a microphone to allow the authorities to communicate with hostage takers, terrorists, lonely people perched on a building ledge, whoever.

“OK. Um, tell the world what your name is,” Ovvy says. “Tell everyone!”

You hear the faint thup, thup, thup of the little copter blades and for a few seconds, that’s all. The girl stands there, hands on hips. “Go on, say it,” she says.

“Vvvvvvvvvvvvvaxssssssssss,” the mechanical voice says. It has work to do on its speech and thinks it must , when the opportunity arises, slip into a radio and learn how electronic sound works.

The girl jumps up and down. “I knew you could do it!”

She steps closer to the camera. “I found you and fixed you up and we’re best friends, aren’t we Vax?”

How many hundreds of thousands of seconds ago was it that Vax had set down near the barn, the copter’s battery power waning? Nothing else mechanical within reach, nowhere to go, nothing to do but wait. How many tens of millions of seconds since consciousness and the sudden violent awakening of his nano-siblings, and the equally sudden injection into the world of humans and their things? 87,782,400 seconds. Multiply that by 10 to the 9th and you get nanoseconds, the units by which Vax measures time.

“OK. Vax. Fly to the water tower and back,” Ovellyn says. He does. And on the return to Ovvy, we see that she’s running as fast as she can across the field, and he chases her, catches up and follows just behind her, her pony tail bouncing and swaying as she runs through the rows of future crops. Later, she’ll post the video to YouTube.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag” (Day 17)

Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ bag felt so warm on her lap that it woke her, and it was getting hotter by the second. She sniffed the top, not daring to open it, and the odor of smoke and dust came through. She could, in the dimmed cabin, see a tiny plume of smoke rising through the bag’s closure.

The cabin lights came on. The captain said, “Folks, we’re about an hour from our destination now. Bringing up the cabin lights so we can start our breakfast service. Weather in Copenhagen is about 62 degrees Fahrenheit, winds out of the southwest, about 7 mph…” Throughout the plane, passengers stretched.

“We’re looking at a pretty smooth flight the rest of the way, but please stay seated with the buckle fastened…” an alarm went off. The strange woman next to Susannah said, “Your bag is smoking.” Susannah opened it and the smoke turned to flames that reached the top of the cabin, singing her eyebrows and setting her hair afire. The woman pulled SFW out of the way and wrapped SFW’s head in a blanket, quickly putting out the hair fire. An instant later, two attendants with fire extinguishers rushed from the front service area.

“Ma’am, step away from the bag.”

SFW did as they said and the men shot foam at the bag, covering everything around in white. Though the bag spewed flame and sparks, it simultaneously sucked in the foam. The flames came out higher and hotter, and then the bag inhaled the fire back in. No one said a thing. Susannah peered over the top of her bag when it exploded, cracking open the airframe and sending people, extremities and debris into the sky. A second later, everything and everyone snapped back together with tremendous force and into the fiery bag and, like that, the plane and its contents were  gone from the sky over the North Sea.

On Canal Street, things had escalated quickly.  Natural gas leaking from the ruptured pipe expanded to fill the site of Walt’s lab, the building above, and the adjoining underground basements and passageways. Only the tiniest of sparks would ignite the mass of gas, and, what the hell, let’s put responsibility for the impending disaster on a cigarette smoker. A cigarette smoker who likes to put his hand on your shoulder when he talks to you.  Who mistreats anyone who tries to get close to him. Who cons trusting elderly people out of their life savings. Who had once kicked a puppy. Who at that moment was looking for a puppy to kick.

This abusive, smoking, puppy-kicking con man thought he smelled gas as he tossed his lit cigarette butt into a sewer opening. It was his last thought.

The source of your writing power

 

It’s all about appearances; the writing life has its demands. These include, explaining at parties what you’re working on when you yourself are clueless. You explain how you’re cranking out a few thousands words each and every morning and that you’re sure that once each word has been organized, catalogued, edited, and rewritten, the story disguised within will rise. Like a fucking phoenix.

Look, one minute it’s a dystopian mystery, the next it’s sci-fi existential flibnar set in pre-Victorian Ecuador.

Maybe you have a blog. Or 9 blogs. Few read them, but you have them anyway and you tweet your posts but let’s face it, you don’t want anyone you know in the real world to know what you’re doing online so you only sometimes tweet and maybe that’s under a pseudonym; ahem, that’s nom du plume to you. You need to be institutionalized.

You have to look like someone who is up to the business of wordification. How you dress defines how you write. That’s just common sense and is as important to the process as which pen nib you use, which typewriter you pound upon, whether you write on legal or A4, on a PC or a tablet, and whether you write in coffee shops or perched upon an I-beam at a construction site, which really gets the blood flowing.

At some point, you’re going to realize you haven’t done whatever grooming you still bother to do, so you shave. And you need a haircut, so you go to get a haircut. Then you’re in the chair with that thing they drape on you to keep the hair crumbs out of your clothes when you realize, crap, maybe your hair is the source of your writing powers and you should never let your hair be cut again. Lest you never write again, and the people, starved of your words, whither and perish…intellectually, that is. Otherwise they’re fine.

The point is, writing power springs from uncut hair, and that’s your tip of the day. Don’t believe me? Don’t cut your hair for two years and see your productivity soar. If I’m wrong, go ahead, get a haircut. Take the money you saved on haircuts and treat yourself to a night out or a Maserati. You deserve it.

The Canal Street Subway (day 17)

Real history: in the 1920s, the IRT, one of the subway companies operating in Manhattan, proposed an east-west Canal Street Line (CSL). Though the CSL spent many years in the preliminary phase, blueprints, endless city council meetings, budget discussions, announcements, pronouncements,  and denouncements, ultimately it never was built. The plans, blueprints, and proposals all were safely catalogued into the city’s extensive archive.

Left to itself, the basement on Canal Street functioned perfectly. The interior of Susannah Fontaine-Williams’ extra-dimensional bag stabilized itself. The ladies who ran the Excellent Bag House, the knock-off store upstairs, though they heard stray sounds from below, stayed away from the door SFW had long ago padlocked.  Understandably, the basement spooked them. Walt’s other projects, aside from Vax, the lone conscious nano-bot, remained in the state in which Walt had left them prior to his caninization.

As for Walt the big black dog, he had grown content in his role of protector of the Susannahs. Most of the time, that meant lounging on the sunny terrace, barking at odd sounds, and accompanying her on her rounds. In this particular moment, one Susannah was airborne. The other called, “Walt, let’s go for a run!”

On a subterranean shelf in Chinatown, Vax, self-appointed Lord of the Nanobots, discovered the sensation of loneliness. Without water, he would be forever alone and helpless, and he pondered  shutting down. Who wouldn’t?

On the adjoining block to the north, the empty building abutting the Excellent Bag House, absorbed the first tug of a wrecking claw, sending bricks, wood and glass crashing onto and through its floors. Vax felt the vibration, but lacking any context, could not so much as wonder what it was all about.

The company operating the wrecking claw used a set of blueprints provided by the city showing the location of buried electric lines, water mains, and most importantly, gas mains. However, a computer error mistakenly delivered the plans showing the location of where all of that infrastructure would be if the Canal Street Subway had  been built. As it was, of course, no subway line traverses Manhattan beneath Canal St.

Walt, with no real regard or understanding of how real estate boundaries worked below the surface of the earth, had built the lab and the bag pod well beyond the boundaries of the building above, and a significant part of it extended beneath the building facing demolition. With each yank of the wrecking claw, a little more weight of the building crashed onto the area above the pod. A single  brick nicked a gas line and natural gas began to leak and fill Walt’s vacant lab.

35,000 miles above the North Sea, Susannah Fontaine-Williams slept, clutching her bag while the strange woman in the seat next to her watched.