It Was His Favorite Relationship with the World

Image

They have a word for it in the intelligence community.  SIGINT is intelligence that is gathered from signals, such as telephone calls, Internet messages, overheard conversations, and the like.  COMINT is intelligence that is gathered from communication between people.  LOVEINT is different, though.  That’s when someone with access to intelligence gathers information on a spouse, girlfriend/boyfriend, or other love interest.  It’s alarmingly common, and profiled here.  That’s what my book is about.

To download my novel, What Happens to Us, on your Kindle for $.99, for as long as the sale lasts, go here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

Advertisements

To Kiss a Stranger

The idea of Other is a powerfully frightening one.

Consider the act of kissing someone.  If your significant other kisses you, it makes you smile.  It can lift you to the mountaintop.  Or, if you’ve just been fighting, it can bring you to tears.

Patrice and David kissing NYears Eve 1a smallerBut if a stranger kisses you, the moment might haunt you for years.  It might be considered a crime, either harassment or worse.  Your emotional reaction might be repulsion, panic, or even violence.

In the photo above, my fiancee was kissing me, but there was clearly a subtext.  Perhaps you can see it in my face.  It was New Year’s Eve.  I had decided to break up with her in September, but had forestalled the date because I’m the kind of card player who holds.  On January 4, I would deliver the final news and she would explode, cursing and accusing.  Go ahead, look, you can see that she had already become Other.

Bob Filner, the dethroned mayor of San Diego, has been the Unwanted Other many, many times.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/15/bob-filner-guilty_n_4101496.html

I’m not saying Bob Filner is excused.  What I’m saying is that it’s no wonder that nations go to war against each other.  Often, it’s just the idea of Other that is offensive.

In my new novel, my main character Cat comes home one night to find a stranger in her apartment holding a gun on her.

Suddenly, he was walking slowly towards her and the calculus began to rapidly shift, and although he was talking, she was not hearing any of it, for his gun was pointed at her now, pinning her to the desk like a straight pin thrust into the thorax of a preserved butterfly.  He took one slow, tiny step after another, until she had recoiled as far back as she could and was leaning back at an extreme angle and she felt the gun barrel against her left ribs and suddenly he was only twelve inches, if that, from her face.  He dropped his cigarette and ground it into the hardwood floor with his toe.

“If you just hadn’t turned your back on the high life, we might’ve made it work.”

His breath smelled of Jack and cigarettes.  His skin was smooth and she was close enough that she could see a spot on his chin that he hadn’t shaved perfectly.  His eyes were languorous and imposing, like dark planets.  The aura that hung about him was of a flooding amorality, like he had kicked down with boots every doorway within him that had stood between him and whatever he wanted, no matter what the thing was that he wanted, and that nothing could stop him now, not the law, not convention, not sentimentality, not anyone else’s will, no matter how strong, not people or protectors, not things or objects or emotion or anything.

“You’re everything bad that’s ever happened to me,” he said in a low, strangely tender tone.

Then, in a moment in which her vision was filled with the blue and black smudge and a smear of bright nighttime headlights and she could actually hear screaming, he leaned over and touched his lips to hers.

Consent.  In the above example, it was clearly not granted.

But in other cases, it’s not so clear.  When I was dating around, one of the most difficult things for me was determining consent.  Of course, it doesn’t do to ask someone.  You have to figure that out for yourself.  In the end, you have to take a risk and just do it.  Every so often, you get a strange reaction.

“You took a big risk there,” Polly told me in January, 1994, when I kissed her in a Mexican restaurant.

Polly had just been put out of her home by the Northridge earthquake and so had I.  She had woken up to the shaking at 4:31 am, and had wanted to run and stand beneath a doorway.  But there was broken glass all over the carpet and she had bare feet.  I had had insomnia that night, and when the building started shaking, I jumped up and stood under a doorway, too.  When I tried to return to the bed, I discovered that the bookcase had fallen onto it.  Had I not jumped up quickly, that bookcase would have fallen onto me.

We had some things in common.  But Polly had a few trap doors, such as a cocaine addiction in her past, or, possibly, she implied, her present.  So it didn’t get far before it ended, and she ultimately became Other to me.

Over the years, I’ve collected in my mind a few offensive acts of Other.  At a strategic moment, I inserted some into my newly published novel, What Happens to Us (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU):

  • “After Dante left, Cat walked downstairs and found a curved oaken semicircle table set against an ancient granite staircase.  She slipped into her spot, a quaint little reading light illuminating her space.  She opened the book at random and read about an incident in 1282 during the time that the Frenchman Charles d’Anjou was ruling Sicily.  On Easter Monday, a French soldier made a lewd comment to an innocent Italian bride during vespers.  Her husband killed the cad, French soldiers retaliated, rioting ensued, and by morning, 2,000 people lay dead.”
  • “In 1712 in New York, a slave named Rose was arrested for speaking to a white woman.  The magistrates gave her 48 lashes at the whipping post and had her tied to a horse cart and dragged around town.  In 1743 in New York, a mob attacked a Jewish funeral, stole the corpse, and gave it a Christian baptism.  In 1689, New York governor Jacob Leisler led an early fight against the English crown, increasing colonist representation in government.  Two years later, soldiers sent by the English crown beheaded him, cut out his heart, and gave it to a woman, who held it aloft and yelled out, “Here is the heart of a traitor!”  Sometimes, it seemed that What Happens to Us was no more than a series of heads on spikes.”

Cover What Happens 1d

I should point out, however, that this novel isn’t just a listing of historical events.  It actually has a compelling story.

To download the new novel, What Happens to Us, for only $3.99, click here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

You Didn’t Hear Anything

Writing a novel is truly a journey of discovery.  And in the writing of my most recent novel, I came to realize that I had something to say about the entire espionage apparatus in this country that I hadn’t heard talked about before.  I wrote it, then rewrote it, then rewrote it again about 80 times.  I vacillated between obscurity and obviousness, iconography and narrative, Carl Jung’s symbols and Hemingway’s iceberg theory.

Cover What Happens 1d

In the story, Cat and Dante are hiding from a man who works in government surveillance who is trying to kill her.  They have gone off the grid and taken up residence in the tunnels beneath an upstate New York university.

v

Chapter 18

After a bad night’s sleep, Cat went to bed the next evening at 11.  A couple hours later, Cat felt Dante squeeze her foot three times to wake her up, as he sometimes did when she had something scheduled.  When she turned her head and looked, no one was there.

Above ground, all was quiet.  One campus policeman was watching television 1,000 yards away while another slept two rooms away in a lounge.  Finally, Cat took a walk through the tunnels to clear her head.  During the day, there were always little noises—clicks inside electrical boxes, the rush of water through pipes—but at night, it all went quiet.  Cat made herself a cup of chamomile, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and walked blindly through the tunnels.  Holding her cup of tea, she savored the timeless quality of the night, thinking about nothing in particular except perhaps the hopeless pursuit of sleep, when she turned a corner that she had turned a thousand times before.  She stopped short and dropped her cup; it shattered on the concrete walkway.

Sitting next to the opening in the ancient brick wall was now a red chair.  It had never been there before.  After the cup shattered on the concrete, she realized that there was a small possibility that Dante had put it there, but somehow, she sensed that he hadn’t, and in fact, when she asked him the next morning, he said he had spent the night at his microbiologist girlfriend’s place.  It changed everything in the tunnel.  Cautiously, she approached it with little steps, glancing around to see if she was being watched.  Finally, she reached it and placed a hand on it.  It was a wooden straight-backed chair that looked like it had been painted over several times, the final red coat popping red in a way that made it seem like a dream chair.

Suddenly, Cat heard a quiet noise inside the brick enclosure, a place that should not be emitting any noise at all, and smelled a familiar odor.  It was a living odor, though, not something that was long dead.  Cautiously, she stepped up on the chair and reached herself up to peer inside.  She could see only shadows, and at first, nothing was moving.  There seemed to be places in the dark where someone could stand, although the rest of it was piled high with skulls and skeletal remains.  Then suddenly she saw movement.  The idea that someone might be inside there was inconceivable.

“Hello?” she said.

Suddenly, Cat heard a frightening noise in the other direction, like something tall and heavy falling to the ground, and yanked her head around in alarm.  She didn’t say anything, and something came into her head but it was a thought, nothing more: What’s that?

“It’s nothing.”

The sound of his voice shook her deeply and she nearly fell off the chair.  Cat hadn’t heard that voice since he had passed away eleven years earlier.

“What are you….?”

“You didn’t hear anything.”

“I did hear it.”

“You’re always making things up.”

Normally, Cat would be fleeing, but there was something impossible about it all that made her screw up her courage and tell herself that it wasn’t happening, that perhaps the conversation existed only inside her head, although she couldn’t for the life of her see how.  She knew she was awake.  She knew there was no one in the tomb.  Perhaps it was a trick, like hanging a spoon on your nose.  She heard the noise behind her again.

“Why are you running?” he said.  “If you’re running, you must be guilty.”

“My God, I don’t have a life anymore.  I have someone else’s.  Some girl who looks like me and talks like me but isn’t me.”

“You should have had my father.  He hit my cat in the head with a rake.  It crawled under the house and wailed all night till it died.  Would you rather I had done that to your cat?”

“God I feel like that cat.”

“Oh stop feeling sorry for yourself.  You’re not that important.”

There was a slight rattling of bones and skulls and she saw the silhouette moving to the right, the glow of a cigarette moving with it, and so realized that familiar smell, for in her mind, the smell of burning tobacco had always been inextricably tied to the idea of father.  In life, her father had had bags under his eyes, but they had derived more from overwork and smoking and bad thoughts than from genuine aging.  He was disappointed at what he hadn’t accomplished in his life but had buried the disappointment in the backyard.  It had taken a huge amount of digging.  His harangues often boiled down to digging.  He had beefs.  He had blamed immigrants and welfare mothers.  That was also digging.  He had lived with his wife in a vodka bottle.  That was some serious digging.  Everyone was his enemy.

“All I want is not to be chased anymore.”

The falling sound echoed again.  She turned around, trying to locate where the sound was coming from.  Was it above ground?  Was it part of the machinery in the physical plant?  Was it in her head?  She turned and faced him.

“Tell me what it is.”

“You don’t know?”

“No.”

He turned in profile, the bones clacking again, and she could feel his intensity like a plate that was too hot to touch.  A stepdaughter is like a gift that a stray dog leaves on your lawn.  She didn’t hear those words, exactly, but that was the feeling.

“It’s the sound of your body hitting the asphalt, dear, when that man who borrowed my gun shoots you dead.”

She was a patsy.  She dropped the rifle.  It wasn’t hers.  There was a man with a rifle on the grassy knoll, but that would be dismissed as mere conspiracy.  Nobody would ever know the truth.

To download a copy of What Happens to Us for only $3.99, click here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU.

Cover What Happens 1a smaller

Look at Their Eyes

I didn’t plan to become a professional magician.  The art of magic seduced me.

In 1990, I was at a crossroads in my life.  With my journalism credentials, I knew I could become a corporate writer and make a steady income.  Or I could become a magician, a path that carried with it the risks of the artistic life.  I decided to pursue both and see which one triumphed.

But passion, like the salmon, makes it own way.  For every one hour that I spent pursuing corporate writing, I spent 40 or more pursuing magic.

In short order, I became obsessed with learning the deepest secrets.  I would study magic all the time.  Magical ideas were constantly churning in my head.  I had to make a pact with myself not to read magic fewer than two hours before bedtime.  If I did, I would have insomnia thinking about magical means and methods.

Formal promo shotBut for me, it wasn’t just about the trick; it was also about how deception, subterfuge, and illusion reflected themselves in my life.  Appropriateness was a shell game.  Certain people were living sleights.  It was all about psychology, upbringing, presentation, charisma, and the way we make our way in the world.  I learned so many truths from the study of magic, much in the way that Robert Pirsig contemplated the universe that lay within motorcycle engines.

My current show, The Jungle Show, is replete with this type of material: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAB6E5A5EF1C144D7

“People wonder why I use the term, skeptic,” I say in the middle of my show.  “Let me tell you a little bit about the entomology of that word.  You know what entomology is.  It’s the study of things that bug me.”

So when I started writing my newest novel, What Happens to Us, in 2007, I knew that my passion for magic had to be part of it.  My character Dante is the embodiment of that.  Even his name echoes the history of magic in more ways than one.

Image

To download the ebook, What Happens to Us, for only $3.99, go here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU

If you don’t own a Kindle, you can download the Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac software for free here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/pc/download

The Thunderstorm and His Son

“Oh, don’t act like you’re all hurt,” he said, walking over to the refrigerator and opening it up.  “This isn’t about you, it’s about how disgusting you are.  You get on a diet right now or you’re gone.  And you can take the loser kid with you.”

Noyes turned around to look at Edward, but his son was gone.

“You know, I didn’t marry you for your brains.  It was the looks you used to have.”

Loretta’s nose was still bleeding.  She kept a paper towel pressed against it, walking away from him as he ranted, her head bowed, Noyes following her, gesturing at her, pointing in anger, Loretta every so often tearing off another paper towel and pressing it to her nose.

“…You think I’m going to stay with a woman whose own father thinks she’s an idiot?  And by the way, I happen to agree….”

Edward appeared around the corner.  His eyes were smeared with tears.   His arm was straight at his side, his hand holding his father’s pistol.  For a long moment, nobody moved.  There was mask of pain drawn across Edward’s face like a goat-skin shroud that Loretta had never seen before.  Loretta had dropped her hand, and as a result, her nose was openly bleeding off her top lip, onto her chin, and onto the kitchen floor.

“Edward Andrew, you come here right now,” Loretta said in a firm voice.

Edward did not move.  He was struggling with something within him and his hands were trembling.  He looked up at his father.  Noyes refused to meet his gaze, but instead, walked to the pantry and took out a bottle of tequila.  He took out a shot glass and poured a drink.

“I should have realized,” Noyes said, holding out the drink and taking a step towards him.  “You’ve finally become a man.  Come here, son.”

The gunshot surprised everyone.  Noyes jumped back, then looked around, seeing Edward’s arm now raised and a look of horror splashed across his face.  Loretta had let out something like an abbreviated scream, raising her hand to her mouth.  Blood was still dripping off her chin.  Within a few moments, Noyes realized with astonishment that he hadn’t been hit.

“I think we’re going to need more than just one glass,” Noyes said, grabbing the tequila bottle around the neck.

Noyes walked towards Edward slowly, step by step, a charming smile playing on his lips, all the while saying, “Son…son…son…son…son…son…son….”

When Noyes had nearly reached his son, the boy suddenly raised his arm and jammed the gun against his father’s chest.  The solid thump of it registered like a jolt on his face.  It reminded Noyes of something that had happened to him in Kosovo, but he couldn’t remember exactly what.  For one long moment, their eyes locked: Edward sniveling through his tears, but beneath that, something within him also surging with rage; the father’s face was in calm, taut control, but peeking out from beneath it, the son could every so often detect a flash of what he figured out years later was disgust and disdain.  It was a moment that Edward would think about virtually every day through the years, sometimes during long, insomniac nights throughout his teens, later in his twenties during harrowing moments of frenzied criminality, a gun in his hand, trying to figure out what the expression of a frightened gas station attendant or surprised homeowner meant, and finally at age 32, in tears for the first time in decades, this time on his knees, head buried in the lap of his nearly naked mistress, confessing how that moment so long ago had forever haunted him because, no matter how he turned the details back and forth in his mind, reframing them, casting them in different contexts—sociopath, misogynist, man of action—he had never been able to make sense of it, and “why didn’t it make sense, why can’t I figure out what it means?” and his mistress peering down at his head, brushing her fingers through his thinning hair, answering simply through a drug-induced haze—“Because he loved you so much”—and then passing out.

For those who were interested in my post, “The Thunderstorm That Lived Next Door,” the excerpt above is how I turned the incidents from my childhood into fiction in my recent novel, What Happens to Us (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU).  In fact, the whole novel is a profile of dysfunction as it expresses itself in many forms, from the personal to the political.  Try it out.

She Was High All the Time

Last August, I was performing on the street in Monterey for a couple weeks.  One couple caught my eye.  Andy was a homeless guitar player and his girlfriend Mona played the bongos.  She was high every time I saw her.  In fact, once I saw her loitering in a parking structure, and she didn’t even recognize me.  Looked like she didn’t even know where she was.  It was such a shame.  She was a pretty girl.

Mona and Andy performing on the street, August, 2012

When writing my newly published novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, I inserted them into it.  They’re the couple, Brescia and Memory, from whom Dante tries to buy a car with a fake registration, but which transaction opens up a whole other can of worms.

“Her name was Memory, although behind her back, all the guys called her Mammary for too-obvious reasons.  She was wearing a tank top, exposing her labyrinth of tattoos that ran up and down her arms.  Her purple hair shone in the morning sunlight like neurosis, a gold ring glistening on her nose.  She was making an iced coffee, and loudly.  From the creases on her forehead, Cat just knew that she had troubles like a bramblebush.  Looking at her, Cat was lost for a moment in Memory’s patterns of ink and skin, art and flesh, cause and consequence, symbolism and dysfunction—in fact, each of her piercings seemed to Cat like a medal commemorating its own dysfunction.”

Last week, after a year’s absence, I returned to Monterey to perform and saw Andy, playing his guitar on the same old wall.  I said hello.

“Hey, dude,” Andy answered back.

“Hey, where’s your girlfriend?”

But at the mere mention of her, Andy’s whole face changed as if a storm had suddenly moved in.

“In a ditch dead somewhere, I hope!”

It seems like mayhaps they had issues?

A Moment of Stunning and Naked Honesty

In my many years as a writer, I’ve discovered that honesty is the key to riveting writing.  You just can’t forget those passages.

In Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars Club, she talks about her parents’ relationship:

“The first night he slept with her, he took a washrag and a jug of wood alcohol to get rid of her makeup, saying he wanted to see what he was getting into.”

My heart skipped a beat when I read that line.

In another Karr memoir, she talks about waking up at night to the sound of her baby coughing.  Her husband offers to get up and take care of it, but she says, No, I’ve got it.

I tell the husband I’ve got it because it ticks another plus sign in my column in this game of shit eating I have composed my marriage to be.  Whoever eats the biggest shit sandwich wins, and I’m playing to justify the fact that I’d rather drink than love.

In my own newly published novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, Cat is a recovering alcoholic only nine months sober, and badly wants to remain so.  I have dredged up from the bottom of the muddy lake some dripping honesty, as well:

Still, Cat never much qualified as a rebel when she was sober.  She didn’t much like rap or hard rock or emo or punk or grunge or even Elvis.  She didn’t like swagger or poses or attitude.  She wasn’t drawn to tight dresses or showing off her skin.  She wasn’t drawn to bad boys.  But as she had begun hearing stories about herself when she was polluted, she began to realize that under the influence, she was a different person entirely.  She called that woman Kick, as in, Watch out, that horse has got a mean kick!  Cat had no idea why Kick did the things she did.  Sober, Cat would never dance on a table in high heels and a short dress.  Cat would never throw a drink in another girl’s face because the girl had called her a slut.  Cat would never wake up from a blackout in a railroad boxcar headed for Tucson, a homeless man sitting across from her with lipstick smudges on his face.  But Kick apparently would.

Not all readers want complete honesty.  I had a UK reviewer who criticized the characters in my new novel for having “too many issues.”  (She still gave it three stars.)  It stung for about ten minutes, until I looked at her preferences in books, which focused on vampire romances and other fantasy material.  Really now, that kind of reader isn’t going to want my level of honesty.

I want the kind of honesty that grabs you by the ears, stays in your stomach for days, or preferably, years, makes you say, Wow.  It’s hard won, that honesty, and it comes only from pitiless self-searching and disregard for one’s own reputation.

Was It Fun While It Lasted?

In the beginning, alcoholism can be quite charming.

“We were doin’ shots, and I sit next to this pretty girl.  She’s real interested in me, and all of the sudden I point my finger at her face as if I’m going to say something.  But you’ll never guess what I did next.  I threw up on her.  She screamed, jumped up, and then jumped into the pool with all her clothes on.  It was so cool.”

Tom, Rudy, and David 1c drunk smaller

To a twentysomething who came from the suburbs where nothing ever happens (except the grand opening of a new strip mall, flaglets a-waving), it’s very seductive.  Things happen!  People laugh and scream!  Bottles break!  Music blasts!  You feel so adult!

The first time I got full blotto drunk, I woke up the next morning with a colossal hangover.  You want to know the first thing I did?  Take a picture of my hung-over face.  I still have that photo.  I was a real man.

In college, I studied Hemingway, and he certainly taught me a few things about booze.  He chatted about fine Spanish wines and beautiful Parisian women.  They tended  to go together.  It wasn’t until later that I learned about his mishap in a loo in which he pulled the chain to flush and the skylight came crashing down on his head, nearly killing him.

In my newly published novel, What Happens to Us, http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU, my lovely character, Cat, is desperately trying to stay sober.  She remembers those charming drunken things that used to happen to her.

“Sober, Cat would never dance on a table in high heels and a short dress.  Cat would never throw a drink in another girl’s face because the girl had called her a slut.  Cat would never wake up from a blackout in a railroad boxcar headed for Tucson, a homeless man sitting across from her with lipstick smudges on his face.”

At a certain point the stories stop being amusing.  But wasn’t it fun while it lasted?  No, probably not.

Terror on a Personal Level (excerpt 2)

This is an excerpt from the newly published novel, What Happens to Us.

Download on the Kindle or on your personal computer for $3.99 at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DSSN5SU.  If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download software on your computer for free:

Kindle for PC: http://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/pc/download

Kindle for Mac: http://www.amazon.com/gp/kindle/mac/download

Nook for PC: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/nook-for-pc/379003591/

Nook for Mac: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/u/nook-for-mac/379003592/