The Shrine – Flash Fiction for 9/28/12

Photo courtesy Sandra Crook

The middle aged man came to the shrine seeking purification. At the spiritual vortex, the kami were everywhere, residing in the gray boulders, the leafed-out trees, the very air. He began the Omairi ritual by bowing twice before the shrine and clapping twice. He laid out an offering of fish, rice wine and salt. Then he prayed. Afterward he meditated. His concentration was broken by the sound of a jetliner flying across the sky. He trembled and looked up to see the same kind of aircraft he’d serviced that fateful day, the plane that had crashed killing everyone on board.

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Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Rarely do I come across a novel I savor so strongly that I force myself to put it down often so that I can extend for as long as I can my reading pleasure. But Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is such a rich experience, you won’t want it to be over.

This is a book that has it all. Descriptive detail so vibrant you’ll feel like the mud of rural Mississippi is clinging to your soles, and your soul. Characters that walk right off the page. A story that grabs you and never lets go. Atmosphere so thick you’ll be sweating from the heat and humidity of the deep south. Dialog authentic enough to make you feel like you’re eavesdropping. Small town intrigue, a chronology that arches over ordinary lives, and a twist that makes you whack yourself in the forehead and say, why didn’t I see that coming?

Franklin’s words are so well chosen, it’s like sipping cream that has risen to the top of a bucket of warm raw milk. The author struggled with his story for years, he admits, revising and ripping it apart and putting it together again over and over until the pieces fit together seamlessly. It was well worth the wait.

Franklin, a writing teacher at the University of Mississippi, has crafted a masterful novel that perfectly captures the dark spirit of a land haunted by the past. This novel stands as tall and impressive as the work of any of the great southern writers, bar none.

Tom Franklin

The story is classic southern bucolic gothic, a tale of a man, Larry Ott, shunned by his neighbors for an assumed outrage, a missing girl, never found, with whom he had the last contact. Though never accused directly, the locals have convicted him in their minds for the past twenty years.

It’s also the story of Silas, the town constable, his childhood friend, long since alienated from the man they call Scary Larry. Conflicted by their past, Silas must unravel a series of violent crimes, a sinuous journey that leads to a revelation about his personal history.

The minor characters are equally fascinating, peopling the book with a cast that makes you feel like you are living the story, not just interpreting symbols on paper. The book transcends the writing process, the same way great music moves you emotionally and becomes much more than just sound.

Franklin is the author of two previous novels, Hell At The Breech and Smonk and a collection of short fiction, Poachers, but critics agree this is his best work to date. The novel won the CWA Gold Daggar and was nominated for the 2011 Edgar prize for best novel.

Another Shopping Debacle

If I ever kill anyone, it will probably be while shopping. There are so many things about shopping that drive me crazy, I could write a manifesto.

Just recently, I had to go pick up some medication at the Walmart pharmacy. I was already wary of the experience, having stewed in the pharmacy line before until the lid blew off my pressure cooker.

I’d learned to avoid the pharmacy nightmare on weekends, or late in the day, when the line gets long. The best time to go, I’d figured out, was on a weekday in the morning or early afternoon, when the line was usually short.

I’d also tried to grease the channels by calling in my prescription the day before. With these precautions, the waters of pharmacopoeia should be smooth sailing. Or so I thought.

On this particular morning, when I arrived at the drug dispensary, there was only one person in line in front of me, an older man. I didn’t see how it could take very long with only one person ahead of me. Boy, was I wrong.

But because it was a slack time, Walmart only had one person waiting on customers, though I counted at least a dozen people at work in the pharmacy that day. The one and only checkout person quickly dealt with a women at the counter and then signaled to the old man in front of me. The old man stepped forward to be helped. I moved to the front on the line, anticipating I would soon be out of there.

But there was some kind of problem with the old man’s order. He kept talking to the clerk and the clerk kept trying to solve the problem, whatever it was.

Have you ever noticed how time slows down when you’re in line somewhere? I think that’s what Einstein meant when he said time is relative. For example, if you’re watching a good movie, ten minutes can go by and you won’t even notice that any time passed at all. But if you’re standing in line waiting somewhere, ten minutes feels like an hour.

I stood there bemoaning my bad luck to myself. Behind me the line was building, bad vibes bouncing off my back. The clerk kept struggling. All the other people working in the pharmacy seemed blissfully ignorant to what was going on.

But finally, just as I was about to brain hemorrhage, another clerk showed up and opened a second register. Thank you, Jesus. I stepped up to claim my drugs.

As always, the clerk demanded my date of birth. To me this is clearly an invasion of privacy. Never mind, you can’t fight the system. I gave it to him and he went off to look for my order.

He came back after a while and said he couldn’t find it. I pointed out to him that I had called it in the day before to the automated system and had been assured by a computer generated voice that it was ready to pick up. Let me go look on the computer, he said and left again. Meanwhile, the old man was still occupying the only other register that was open. Maybe he was part of the occupy movement or something.

After a while, my guy came back. But as he was walking by the other register, the other clerk grabbed him and sought his help with the old man’s problem. Now the old man was monopolizing both clerks. I felt totally abandoned. If I’d had a gun with me, that would have been when I’d have lost control and started firing.

I make the mistake of looking back at the people in line about then, and they looked like they were ready to kill also, and I was one of their targets.

I stood there at the register and stared daggers at the old man and the two clerks trying to help him. I think they felt my heated gaze, because after another eon or so, one of the clerks managed to break away from the parlay and come help me. It wasn’t my guy. He stayed with the old man. It was the other guy who had originally been on the other register.

Of course, he didn’t know my situation, so I had to explain the whole thing to him, give him my info, including my ancient date of birth, all over again. Let me go look for it, he said, assuming I and the other clerk were both idiots. I thought he was only half right.

He came back after a while and said he couldn’t find it. The people still in line were setting up tents. Let me go look on the computer, he said and left again.

He came back about a year later and told me triumphantly that he had found my order, but for some reason it was in some kind of limbo status. It had been placed on hold, he said. But we can fill it. It should be ready in about 45 minutes.

I gave up and left Walmart, and the distant memory of fresh air and sunshine as I walked to my car calmed me some, enough that I decided not to get the revolver out of my trunk and go back into the store.

Instead, I got in my car and drove away, upset that the whole blasted fiasco was going to make me late for my anger management therapy.

Happy Mabon!

The first blog I wrote was about how we should change the current calendar to reflect the natural cycle. Our holidays mark past religious and political events, but none of them recognize the cosmic transitions we pass through four times a year.

This was not true in ancient times. Olden cultures noted astronomical events with celebrations. Today, the autumnal equinox, is a day to party, but most people don’t think of it as a holiday.

To the Celts, it was a harvest festival called Mabon, a time to give thanks for the bounty of summer. It is also a time to reflect on our good fortune.

The Celts divided the year into light and dark halves, and this is the day we move into the dark part, when darkness exceeds the light. All creatures, plant and animal, begin in darkness and grow into the light. Light and dark represent many aspects of our lives, good and evil, knowing and unknown, life and death.

According to Celtic Oracle, Mabon is a time “for seeing the positive side of what you have, and for identifying those aspects that could have germinating potential for future personal development.”

Here’s how you should celebrate Mabon, according to the Celtic Oracle.

-Begin some form of study or other home pursuit.

-Complete repairs to buildings or anything else that will be needed during the winter.

-Enjoy indoor activities, such as storytelling, making music and feasting.

Happy Mabon!

Busking – Flash Fiction for 9/21/12

Photo courtesy Lora Mitchell

Louisa has a beautiful voice. When she sings, the tourists give up the bucks. She was supposed to meet me at the sad statue. When she doesn’t show, I take out the guitar and go it alone. I’m not much of a singer. The take isn’t good, not even enough for a dime bag. I blame Louisa, and head for her apartment to confront her. At her door, I knock and call her name. No answer, though the lights are on. Peeping under a blind, I see her lying lifeless on the couch, the syringe still stuck in her arm.

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WTF

I never heard my mom or dad use profanity. Mom used to emphatically say “shoot” in a way that sounded a lot like another word. Dad used to talk about some “blamed” thing or another. I never hear anyone use that expletive anymore. That was about as colorful as their speech got.

But by the time I was a teen, I was using profanity like a sailor on a stormy day. Not around my parents, or other adults, of course.

I believe profanity has an necessary niche in our language. Anytime I’m irritated, frustrated or angry, profanity is just the best way to express those feelings. Those words provide a way to vent, to relieve some of the pressure. I could never work on my car without these words in my vocabulary.

Profanity has apparently gained wide acceptance. A USA Today survey found 64 percent of Americans use the word fuck, probably the curse word with the most cachet. It’s a word you used to never hear in public, though even back then it was scrawled on the walls of public bathrooms. Now, you might hear it just about anywhere.

Profanity has always been with us, right from the start. Just look at the history of profane expressions in English. Virtually all of our curse words come from the Anglo-Saxon core of our language. Anglo-Saxon words were usually one syllable, short and guttural. Now, think about those dirty four-letter words still in common use. They’re one syllable, short and guttural. They’ve been around as long as any words in the language, and they’ve never gone out of style. There must be a need for them.

Over the past few decades, the shock value of these words has diminished and their usage has shifted. I remember going to a Christmas party around 1980 or so, and a man called another man’s wife a bitch, and there was a fight. If that happened now, I doubt it would lead to fisticuffs, and some women might even consider it a compliment.

More evidence of the widespread use of cuss words are the acronyms that have shorthanded their way into use. MF, OMG, WTF, RTFM, FUBAR and AYFKM are examples of acronyms in common use. Somehow, by just reducing these obscenities to initials, they have come to be more accepted and less offensive. There is a local commercial that airs for a car dealership named Matthews Ford. Their logo is MF. I doubt they attract many literary types with that acronym.

Still, it seems some stigma remains. I’m a language person, so I like to play word games. At Pogo, the game I play the most is Word Whomp. I’ve played it so much, I’ve come to know which words the game will accept and which it won’t. Word Whomp is fine with ass, but rejects tit. It will accept damn, but not fuck. You can use pee, but not shit. And even though it’s not profane, Word Whomp rejects the word rape.

I think this is incredibly naive. By ostracizing the word rape, do the word police at Word Whomp think they are lessening the chance it will happen? If this is their thinking, why do they accept murder, kill, rob, stab, and other words denoting violent acts? And if this technique works, why don’t they ban words like cancer, heart attack, AIDS, and diabetes?

I mean, after all, WTF.

Showing the royal jewels

These grainy photos of Kate appeared in a French magazine

It sure seems like members of the British royal family like to get naked.

First it was Prince Harry in Vegas, photographed with his willie and all, playing strip billiards. The photos went pubic, oops, public almost immediately.

Now, it’s Princess Kate, who was sunbathing topless on vacation in Provence. A French magazine published some of the photos, and there are rumors that much more intimate ones may exist. An Irish publication also published the photos and an Italian magazine says it will have a spread of more than 30 pages of the photos.

Attorneys for the royals are going to court to try to punish the magazines for invasion of privacy. It seems likely they’ll win and the magazines will be hit with money judgments, but it’s really a weak punitive measure.

Here’s why. In Europe, money awarded for invasion of privacy is much less than in the United States. In Europe, the attorneys might expect to have a magazine docked $15,000 or $20,000 for running such photos. The magazines stand to make a lot more than that in profit, so the decision to run the photos is a no-brainer.

If the case were in the U.S., the royals could expect to win millions, enough to discourage publication of nude photos. No U.S. magazine or newspaper has run the photos undoctored because of this difference.

Also, it sure seems like there’s a big gender gap. When Prince Harry fleshed out in Vegas, there didn’t seem to be a huge outcry against the photographers and a rush for justice. But when a British princess is naked from the waist up, well, that’s just scandalous.

It’s hard to understand why these members of the royal family expose themselves. They have to know the press is stalking them 24/7. They could very easily avoid the whole issue with one simple act, by just keeping their clothes on in public.