Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary


February 2012

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode VI ~

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode VI

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony

~ Episode VI ~ 

Things Ain’t Now, Mama What They Used To Be 

Now Let’s See ~ Where Were We???

Mugsy is visited by the free lance ornithologist, Elvert Bisbee, who is looking for Gladys. He informs Mugsy of the suspicious and sinister activities of the two piano tuners. Mugsy heads out the door to find Gladys, and the envelope and to meet his date with destiny.  He receives a text message from Imma Pennyraker, telling him to walk towards the river. After descending the stairs, he pauses to check on the action in the street, and witnesses Fontaine’s body being spirited away in a black Mercedes SUV. Stepping out onto the sidewalk, he spots Gladys roosting on a “No Parking” sign across the street. Careful to avoid Miss Crabclaws, Mugsy starts to cross the street in an effort to approach Gladys and retrieve the envelope. He glances back to see the piano tuners come around the corner. They spot him but are temporarily detained by Miss Crabclaws. Musgsy starts to cross the street and is almost hit by a van, just as Gladys takes off and starts flying towards the river. The door of the van slides open and someone yells: “Get in now if you want to live!” Mugsy dives into the van telling the driver to “Follow that parrot and step on it!” 

~ And now ~

The van took off and careened down the street, first bouncing off the curb, then nearly swerving into oncoming traffic. I flopped around like a fish out of water, trying to get up off the floor. This was the second time in an hour I found myself in a such a compromised position. I hoped it wasn’t becoming a habit.

Her sultry voice hit me like a velvet hammer. “So, we meet again, Mr. Phlegmming. I did not think it would be so soon, but things are happening more quickly than expected. I presume you have the envelope?” I heaved my bulk onto the seat and and found myself face to face with Imma Pennyraker. She was no longer dressed in a wet raincoat, but she still looked as munchable as a box of Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies. “The envelope is somewhere safe,” I said. “Actually, it’s a long story, but Gladys has it. That’s why we need to follow that parrot.” Ms. Pennyraker said something in Russian to the driver, who gunned the engine, jumped the curb and started driving on the sidewalk to get around traffic and keep up with Gladys.

Imma Pennyraker

I looked back and saw a police patrol car stop outside my office building. Miss Crabclaws was all over the cops before they could even get out of the car. She brandished her cane like a rapier, slashing and poking, pointing at the ruins of her piano, then thrusting the cane back towards the cops as she ranted and raved. Maybe this was what Zorro might have looked like at the elder hostel, hopped up on meth and reliving his salad days. The piano tuners were jacking a pizza delivery car. One of them had a gun leveled at the pizza guy who was backing away with his hands in the air. Bisbee came out of the building and started sprinting after us. “Hell Hounds On My Trail” started running through my head. This was no time to be singing the blues.

“She’s heading towards the river” I said. “ We can’t let her out of our sight!” Pedestrians screamed and dove out of the way of the van. We swerved back onto the street just in time for the bridge. Gladys was flying across the river. She had swooped down, keeping close to the water and then veered east towards the main part of the city. I heard brakes screeching and horns honking. I looked back and and saw traffic stalled out in gridlock and the pizza delivery car jammed up in the middle.


We crossed the bridge, keeping our eye on Gladys. She seemed to be heading towards a ramshackle shanty on the river bank. “That’s the old boat house,” I said. “Turn left on that access road just across the bridge, but do it fast. We’ve got to lose that pizza delivery car.” It was starting to get dark and that was going to make everything more difficult. Gladys was looking for a safe place to roost for the night. It would be almost impossible to find her in the dark. I hoped that’s why she was heading for the boat house. It would be a good place for us to hide too, if we could just lose the piano tuners.

Boat House

We turned onto the frontage road and headed for the boat house. The street on the other side of the bridge was not in view. I couldn’t see the piano tuners which meant they couldn’t see us either. The boat house came into view, but Gladys was nowhere to be seen. It was getting dark fast. We had no time to lose.

We pulled up to the boat house. I got out of the van first. I heard Imma Pennyraker say something to the driver in Russian before she got out. The van pulled away and kept driving down the frontage road. “I told Giorgio to drive the van away and lose it. We can’t take the risk of somebody spotting it here.” she said.

The boat house was in disrepair, but still relatively intact. There were a couple of broken windows, but the roof looked sound and there was a working door. I turned the knob and was relieved to find it unlocked. I pushed the door open and tried to get a look inside. It was already dark as a dungeon in there but still light enough to see shadowy forms. I could just make out the shape of a flat-bottom row boat on a set of saw horses. Before stepping totally inside I looked back in the direction we had come from. It was almost too dark to see, but someone was definitely walking up the road in our direction.

Broken Window

“Quick, get inside,” I said. “Someone‘s coming!” We ducked inside and closed the door behind us. It would have been dark as pitch, but the lights from the town were enough to illuminate the place to see just enough to get around. I heard foot steps crunching on the gravel outside the boat house, then they stopped. I pulled the sock full of quarters out of my pocket and held it over my head like a black jack. I was prepared to give whoever it was a good crack across the noggin.

Boat House Door

The door swung open with a creak. A shadowy figure stood in the doorway. “Hello,” he said. “Is anybody in there?” He started to come through the door. I raised the sock full of quarters and got ready open up a can of whoop-ass on the intruder. Before I could move, I heard flapping of wings and felt something rip the sock right out of my hand. There was an ear-splitting screech. “Drop the gun punk!” It was Gladys! I heard Bisbee’s voice. “Gladys? Is that you girl? Come to Papa!”

I peered into the dusk and recognized Bisbee with Gladys perched on his shoulder. “Jesus Christ Bisbee!” I said “You scared the Bejeezus out of me! How the Hell did you find us?”

“Glad to see you too, Phlegmm,” Bisbee said. “I knew about this boat house and figured Gladys might try to roost here for the night. By the way, you’re welcome.”

“For what? I asked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about?”

“ I knew you had a shitload of trouble following you, so I pulled the lever on the back of a garbage truck. It dumped a full payload into the street. Hell of a mess. Stopped traffic dead going both ways. I think the piano tuners are probably still stuck in that quagmire.”

The Package

I heard a deep but sensuous voice behind me. It massaged my libido like the scrub brushes in a car wash. “They’re not piano tuners.” Imma Pennyraker stepped out of the shadows and outside into the dim twilight. She was holding the envelope in her hand. “Gladys dropped the envelope onto the floor when she knocked your weapon out of your hand. We are fortunate, indeed,” she said. She stood facing us in silhouette with the river at her back. The reflection of the lights of the city sparkled on the placid water like a million emeralds. She looked like an Amazon river goddess.

From the East Shore

Bisbee let out a low whistle between his teeth. “You’ve been holding out on me Phlegmm. Who’s this tall drink of water?”

“I’d introduce you, but I don’t know her real name.” I said. “I’ve been getting the run-a-round ever since she darkened my doorway. Perhaps the lady would like to tell us her real name and explain what this is really all about?”

“I’d be happy to,” she said. She held out the sock full of quarters. “Mr. Phlegmming, perhaps you’d like to put this back in your pocket? Not only does it enhance the cut of your trousers, but you may be needing it later. Now let’s step inside and I’ll explain everything. We haven’t much time.”

Thrift Shop Fedora

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot!

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just happy to See Me?

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode V

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony

Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot

Our Story So Far

A mysterious woman in a wet raincoat pays a visit to the Mugsy Phlegmming Detective Agency. She entrusts Mugsy with an envelope. The sound of a terrible crash from the street below distracts Mugsy. He goes over to the window to investigate, and by the time he turns back, the woman in the wet raincoat has vanished. Mugsy is visited by Mr. Fontaine, the man in the lime green mohair leisure suit. Fontaine, pulls a gun on Mugsy and attempts to steal the envelope. It looks like he may get away with it, until Gladys swoops down from her perch, knocks the gun from Fontaine’s hand and steals the envelope. Fontaine lunges for the parrot as she flies away and he meets his own untimely demise as he falls from the window to the street below. Gladys roosts on the roof of the building across the street, the envelope still held in her beak. Mugsy is visited by the free lance ornithologist, Elvert Bisbee, who is looking for Gladys. He informs Mugsy of the suspicious and sinister activities of the two piano tuners. Mugsy heads out the door to find Gladys, and the envelope and to meet his date with destiny.

Episode V ~ Follow That Parrot 

I stuck the starter pistol in the back of my waistband, gangsta style and stuffed the sock full of quarters in my right hip pocket. It created an unseemly bulge, but then again, that might actually help me get lucky. That sock full of quarters might just get me out of a jam somewhere up the road, especially if I needed change for a parking meter or a vibrating bed in a fleabag hotel. I had the giddy feeling that anything could happen. I wondered about the dame and immediately felt a pleasant vibrating sensation near my groin. I was just beginning to enjoy it a little too much when I remembered the burner phone Imma Pennyraker had given me. I’d put it in my other pocket and forgot about it.

I let it vibrate for a couple more seconds before I pulled it out. There was a text message: “ Walk towards the river and someone will contact you. I.P.”

I stepped out into the hallway, quietly pulled the door shut behind me and tried to sneak down the stairs without making the floorboards squeak. It was no use. The floorboards chirped like a nightingale floor in a samurai castle. I stopped and held my breath. I could hear Bisbee rustling about in his office, but miraculously, it seemed that he had not heard my departure. The last thing I needed now was him tagging along as a sidekick. He would insist on showing me his tattoo.

I stopped on the front landing and peeked out the window before stepping out into the street. A black Mercedes SUV with black-out windows pulled up to the curb and stopped with the motor running. Two hulking brutes in black Armani suits got out, picked up Fontaine’s body, and put it into the car. They got back in, pulled away, and drove  towards the river. I heard sirens in the distance. I stepped out onto the sidewalk. Music rumbled from the strip club. Sketchy looking characters came and went from the tattoo parlor. Ms. Crabclaws was out there, waving her cane around and ranting at a group of skaters who were standing nearby.  I spied Gladys down the street in the other direction, perched on top of a No Parking sign. Thank God she still had the envelope in her beak. I was glad that Gladys was perched down the street in the direction I had to go. At least that made things easier. The sirens were getting closer. Ms. Crabclaws had probably called the cops. I was running out of time.

Tattoo II

I started walking down the sidewalk. I needed to cross the street to get to Gladys. I looked back just in time to see the piano tuners come out of the alley, turn the corner and start walking up the street in my direction. Ms. Crabclaws saw them and blocked their path. I heard her launch into a vicious tongue lashing. I glanced back to see her waving her cane around like a light saber. I knew she’d delay the piano tuners for only so long. They had spotted me and were stepping around her as she continued her tirade. I started to cross the street and heard a tremendous screeching of brakes. A Dodge minivan covered with bumper stickers had stopped inches away from flattening me like a pancake. I was momentarily frozen in my tracks but quickly snapped out of it and jumped back onto the curb. Gladys flapped her wings and took off. She was flying in the direction of the river.

The side door of the van slid open and somebody said, “Get in now if you want to live!” I noticed the campaign bumper sticker on the side of the van that said Cheney-Satan in 2008. Now there’s a portentous omen, I thought, as I dove for the door.

Cheney-Satan Campaign Sticker

As the van pulled away, I could see the two piano tuners coming down the street. Bisbee gaped in disbelief from the upstairs window. Gladys was flying away. “Follow that parrot!” I said “and step on it!”


~ 4 Strings, 3 Chords and a Cloud of Dust ~

Rock and RollBot

It’s back. It hasn’t reared it’s ugly head in years. I felt a twinge of it returning late last fall and I hoped it would go away by simply trying to ignore it.  Even though I used my most sophisticated techniques, cultivated by years of successfully practicing out right DENIAL in other areas of my life, it kept cropping up around the fringes of my imagination.  I am now coming to terms with the fact that it never really completely went away after all. At this point it has reached a stage-4, full-on flare up, and I must turn and face the truth. Sometimes the only thing to do is to embrace your enemy with a manly bear hug and a big ol’ slobbering wet kiss.

I’m talking about G.A.S. my friends. It’s insidious. It’s chronic. It can be fatal. To your bank account. The terminal stage is a death bed confession to your wife, significant other, soul mate, cocker spaniel or other suitable proxy – as to how many GUITARS you REALLY own. This is no harmless sniffle, this is G.A.S. people. I’m talking about (gasp!) GUITAR ACQUISITION SYNDROME. G.A.S. is very real and very serious. It usually manifests during one’s teenage years, as it did with me.  But sometimes it may not show up until much later. This is known as Adult Onset G.A.S. and can be far more serious. Adult onset G.A.S. is sometimes mistaken for a midlife crisis, and usually starts with a diabolical little voice whispering in your ear that “you’re never too old to rock and roll.” Adult Onset G.A.S. is usually a more rapid slide into the abyss as you probably have enough money in your bank account, or at least access to a couple of smoking credit cards to get yourself in really deep, really fast.

Guitar Store

I was stricken with G.A.S. at the tender age of 14. What brought it on was a picture of Elvis holding a Gibson with a sunburst finish on the sleeve of the 45 “Devil in Disguise”. I wasn’t actually much of an Elvis fan, but that song had some serious mojo and really cool licks. Although it certainly didn’t hurt to have Scotty Moore blazing away on guitar. What really got me was the picture of the Elvis guitar with a sunburst finish. I just had to have it. In my case, it was a $25 HARMONY with F Holes and a sunburst finish. It was as heavy as a boat anchor with the action so high that it nearly ripped the flesh right off your fingers just trying to make a G chord. It was the boot camp of guitars. If you survived that, you could play anything. The driving force behind my quest for another, and better guitar, was not so much G.A.S. as it was the primal instinct for survival. I knew that all the fingers on my left hand would fall off if I kept trying to play my Harmony. As a 14 year old boy, there were darker forces threatening my right hand, but we won’t get into that here.

At this point, I should make it clear, that though G.A.S. may start with guitars, as it progresses, it includes any and all stringed instruments; everything from banjos and mandolins to ouds and diddly sticks. The current flare up of G. A.S. has brought on a subversive stalking of an instrument that has occupied my thoughts in a manner bordering on obsession. I want a ukelele. There – I said it out loud. C’mon – sing it with me people -UKELELE! I’m not going to get into the whole history of the instrument here, although it is really fascinating.

Martin Ukelele (Wikipedia)

I did have a uke as a kid, but that was more like a toy and I quickly lost interest. And let’s face it, back in the 60’s they were anything but hip. Ukeleles generally conjured up images of collegiate crooners from the Roaring 20’s wearing full length racoon fur coats and straw boaters.

Roaring 20’s (Wikipedia)

I remember Arthur Godfrey on our black and white TV playing a uke. He was about as hip as Lawrence Welk or Liberace,  and then there was Tiny Tim. Wow. What can I say about Tiny Tim, God rest his soul. He was a pop sensation there for a while, but no way could he cut heads with someone like Keith Richards from the Stones. All this stuff is on Wikipedia if you don’t know what the Hell I’m talking about. Just hit the G spot – and by that, I mean Google.

Men in Fur Coats (Wikipedia)

Moving along here, because this is getting really wordy and I sense I’ve already lost most of you. I had noticed that there had been a resurgence of interest in ukeleles in recent years, but what really got me going on all of this was hearing a great tune from Eddie Vedder on Pandora. I thought he was accompanying himself on mandolin, and I really liked the sound. Upon further investigation, I learned it was a uke and that he had cut an entire album and even went out on tour playing songs with various ukeleles. I gotta say, that’s when I got bitten by the bug. Not too long after that my friend’s daughter asked me what musical instrument her Dad might want for Christmas. I did what I always do in such circumstances. I told her to buy him something that actually I really wanted – a uke.

Well she did, and it is absolutely gorgeous, curvaceous and voluptuous.  Hey, get your mind out of the gutter, you perv, we’re still talking about ukeleles here. Anyway I confess I have uke envy. It’s kind of like penis envy amongst us male bonding types, only different. I’m going to cash in all my empty beer bottles and count up the change I’ve been hoarding and see how far that gets me. G.A.S. has it’s cold and bony fingers wrapped around my soul. With a uke, it’s 4 strings, 3 chords and I’m good to go all night.

Steel Guitar

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks ~ Episode IV

The Last of the Hard Boiled Dicks Episode IV.

Is That a Gun in Your Pocket, or Are You Just happy to See Me?

A Mugsy Phlegmming Caper

A Cheap and Tawdry Detective Noir Mystery 

in Serial Form and Three Part Harmony

Episode IV. The Piano Tuners and the Free-Lance Ornithologist


 A mysterious woman in a wet raincoat pays a visit to the Mugsy Phlegmming detective Agency. She entrusts Mugsy with an envelope. The sound of a terrible crash from the street below distracts Mugsy. He goes over to the window to investigate, and by the time he turns back, the woman in the wet raincoat has vanished. Mugsy is visited by Mr. Fontaine, the man in the lime green mohair leisure suit. Fontaine, pulls a gun on Mugsy and attempts to steal the envelope. It looks like he may get away with it, until Gladys swoops down from her perch, knocks the gun from Fontaine’s hand and steals the envelope. Fontaine lunges for the parrot as she flies away and he meets his own untimely demise as he falls from the window to the street below. 


 Episode IV. The Piano Tuners and the Free-Lance Ornithologist

 I leaned out the window and looked down at Fontaine’s body. It looked like a broken doll from the disco era as it lay crumpled on the ruins of the piano on the sidewalk below. I actually kind of felt sorry for the guy. Guess I wasn’t quite the hard boiled dick I thought I was.

However, my brief reverie was disturbed by the sound of footsteps in the hall outside my door. The hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I was developing a preternatural cat-like sixth sense for danger. A shadow darkened the frosted window of the door, followed by the sound of knuckles sharply rapping on the glass.

Office Door

“Hold on, I’ll be right there,” I said, as I looked around for Fontaine’s gun. It was laying around somewhere. Whoever was out there, turned the knob and started to open the door. I saw Fontaine’s gun laying in full view on the floor. I had to do some pretty fancy footwork, but managed to kick the pistol under the desk just as the door swung open. I was busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.

I turned to face my latest visitor, expecting the worst. I was relieved to see Elvert Bisbee, the freelance ornithologist from across the hall. “Hey Phlegm,” he said “I gotta talk to you. There’s some strange stuff going on around here.”

“Come in and close the door Elvert … and please don’t call me Phlegm. You know I hate that nickname. It’s just not dignified,” I replied. “What’s up?” I tried to act casual.

“You know that old biddy, Miss Crabclaws, who teaches piano upstairs?” he said. “Well, I just ran into her as I was coming into the building a little while ago and she told me a couple of guys claiming to be piano tuners shoved her piano right out the window. Boy, was she ever pissed off. She was waving her cane around like Igor Stravinsky conducting the Rite of Spring. I thought for sure old lady Crabclaws was gonna club me over the head with it … and there’s more.”

“Like what? I asked, feigning complete innocence. I glanced out the window and saw Gladys roosted on top of the All Nite Laundromat and Pizzeria across the street. She still had the envelope in her beak.


“Well for one thing,” he continued, “someone switched our signs around in the hallway, which is weird enough. But then, I open my door to find two goons tossing the place. When I ask them what the Hell they think they’re doing, they claim to be piano tuners, apologize for the mixup, and leave, just like that. Piano tuners, my ass! More like some kind of hired heat if you ask me. Piano tuners don’t go around dressed like the Blues Brothers and acting like characters out of Men in Black. You’re the private dick around here. What’s it look like to you?”

“Sounds like they were on a mission, that’s for sure,” I said. “Maybe looking for something, but I can’t imagine what,” I lied. I heard the sound of police sirens in the distance. There was no time to waste.

“By the way, have you seen Gladys?” he asked. “I can’t find her anywhere.”

“Nope,” I lied. “I haven’t seen hide nor hair of her – or feather nor beak, as the case may be.” I hoped he wouldn’t notice the bird shit on the floor under the hat rack where she had roosted. I glanced out the window. Gladys was nowhere to be seen on the roof of the All Nite Laundromat and Pizzeria.

“Elvert, this is all pretty damn fascinating and mysterious,” I said, “but I’m late for an appointment. I have a mani-pedi and a facial scheduled down the block at that tattoo joint, and you know how those people can be. The last thing I need is for them to be pissed at me while they’re working around my face with a tweezers.”

Tattoo II

“I didn’t take you for that kind of boy Phlegm,” Elvert said sarcastically. “You should let them ink you. They did a portrait of Gladys that covers my whole back. I’ll show you sometime.”

“I can hardly wait,” I said, distractedly. “Don’t let that door hit you in the ass on the way out.”

He left, closing the door behind him. I thought about grabbing Fontaine’s gun, but figured it would only get me in trouble. I snagged the starter pistol and sock full of nickels from the desk drawer instead. I listened for the sound of Bisbee’s office door closing. When I was sure the coast was clear, I put on the  fedora, pulled it down low on my forehead, took a slug of Jack and headed out the door.

Thrift Shop Fedora

Into the Heart of the Night

Thirsty Boots

Bill parades around the living room in a pair of frayed and tattered white Jockey briefs with holes in them. “Jesus, Bill,” I say. “That’s disgusting. I hope you’re not actually planning on wearing those tonight.”

“This is my one and only pair of lucky underwear. They’re like some kind of chick magnet. I swear, every time I wear them, I get lucky,”  Bill says.

“Well, my Mother used to say that no matter what else I’m wearing, I should always wear clean underwear, in case something happens and I have to go the hospital,” I say.

“What the Hell kind of logic is that? If you go to the hospital the first thing they do is stick you in one of those gay, assless gowns,” he says. “ You might as well be wearing assless chaps.”

“Hate to burst your bubble. But why even say ‘assless’ chaps?  Aren’t all chaps assless?” I ask.

“Whatever,” Bill says, pulling on a pair of new jeans. “All I’m sayin’ is these are my lucky drawers. Then it’s straight back to my room and my water bed and rubber sheets with ‘Get Down’ written on them. You coming out with us tonight?”

“I don’t think so. I’m totally fried. I ended last night and started this morning at Magnolia’s Thunder Pussy,” I say.

“Now there’s a place to eat if you want to clog every artery,” Bill says “and what a freak show! Last time I was in there it was right after bar time and some tweaker was having a conversation with the coffee creamer on the counter. He was all Senor Wences talking with Pedro, opening and closing the creamer lid – ‘S’awright? S’awright!”

“Well what do you expect at that time of the night?”  I say “Anyway, they got the best home fries and huevos rancheros with green hot chilis in the universe. It’s the ultimate hangover cure. I hope you’re not planning on staying out all night. We’re playing the Denver Barbarians tomorrow. We need you in the scrum.”

“Don’t worry about me” Bill says, “ I can drink all night, play rugby the next morning and then go out and do it all again.” Bill finishes snapping up the pearl buttons on a paisley print rodeo shirt and starts pulling on a pair of cowboy boots.

“Yeah, like the way you were upchucking your scrambled eggs on the sideline 2 minutes into the game last week. I see you’re steppin’ out in the shit kickers,” I say.

“Hey bro – these are Tony Lama snakeskin boots. Even sexier than my lucky drawers,” Bill replies. “Well, I’m off. I’m meetin’ Spike at The Broken Drum.”

“The Broken Drum? You mean The Drunken Bum. That’s the kind of dive where Bukowski would have gotten shit faced. You’re not going to get lucky there,” I say.

“We’re only starting there. Cheapest place to get shooters of Cuervo. Jump start the evening, then it’s onto greener pastures,” Bill says as he steps into the doorway.

At the Bar

“What should I tell Kim if she comes looking for you?” I ask.

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Bill says “I know what you’re thinking and you better not. You can look, but you better not touch. Adios amigo.” Bill gives a little salute, then he’s out the door.

Gentlemen’s Club

Book Report and Other Rantings and Ravings

Book Maker's Tools

This is my first book report for 2012. Remember book reports? Almost nothing could induce panic and dread like a book report, if you hadn’t actually read the book and were trying to fake it. My teachers could be like something out of the Spanish Inquisition if I tried to put that kind of crap past them. However, book reports were really cool if you actually had read the book, and especially if you enjoyed the book. They were an occasion to celebrate and share.

I seem to be ordering a lot of books online lately. The books I’ve been buying are Poetry and Flash Fiction by authors whose work I find exciting, engaging, tough, gritty, edgy and most importantly, truly authentic. I like these guys with the same kind of  passion I had for the Beat Poets when I was a snot nosed twenty-something. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a snot-nosed twenty-something. We’ve all been there, or maybe you ARE there, in which case please don’t take offense. I’m a geezer and I have cranky opinions.

Anyway, I’ve been ordering these books online. Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE bookstores, but I live somewhere between East Jesus and West Buttcrack and the nearest book store is 30 miles away. Not to mention the fact that it is highly unlikely that those bookstores would have these specific books that I want to buy and read and keep forever in my personal library. It’s a five hour drive to The Strand Bookstore in New York City and a Homeric odyssey and a pilgrimage on a biblical scale to the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, so this is where the internet is my best friend. I am also driven by the 21st century lust for instant gratification. So if I can order a book with three clicks and a cloud of dust, then what’s not to love? Two of the  books I recently ordered just arrived in the mail. I got the same feeling of elation I used to get as a kid when the prize from the coupon in my Count Chocula cereal box arrived in the mail.

These books arrived like the cavalry in a Cowboy and Indian movie – in a nick of time and not a moment too soon. I just finished reading a novel that I LOVED –  “After Life” by Rhian Ellis. (More on that in another post)  If I am a slow learner, (which has been my story and I’m stickin’ to it) I am even more of a slow reader, – but , especially when it comes to novels. However,  I actually think it’s more a case of me not wanting to come to the end of a good novel. When I read a good novel, I inhabit that world, I become the protagonist. It’s not escapism as much as it is inter-dimensional travel. When I come to the end of a novel I have been immersed in reading, there is a sense of loss and “What the Hell do I do now?” It’s like a bad break-up and rebound relationships are almost always a disaster. What you need is a change of pace. This is where my mail order bride – er – I mean – books – come in.

Book Store

While novels demand a more singular kind of attention from my ADDHD addled brain, Poetry and Flash Fiction are different for me. With Poetry and Flash Fiction, each small piece has the potential of being self contained, dense and rich – a kind of verbal amuse-bouche that you might consume in a few short bites, but that has so much unique character you need a palette cleanser before returning. (I learned all that from Top Chef being on television within earshot of my writing space.) Anyway, I am able to read a number of books of Poetry or Flash Fiction simultaneously and it happens in a natural systematic fashion. Because I will read a Poem or a Flash Fiction piece in one sitting (even though I may read each piece more than once) I can then read another author’s work, without losing my connection to either one. I don’t do this well with novels. What usually happens when I try that is that I don’t finish any of them.

I also must confess that I am irrevocably connected to the physical book, with printed pages I can turn and dog-ear and spill coffee on and cover photos of the author or illustrations I can look at and go back to. Somehow all this helps keep me connected with the writing and even more so with the author. It reminds me of the many hours I spent looking at album cover art while listening to vinyl records. I know, like I said, I’m a geezer with cranky opinions. I still have a land line too. In fact the phone just rang as I was writing this and I was able to screen that call. It was someone who wanted to whisper sweet nothings in my ear and sell me stuff I don’t want or need. I’m not getting those kinds of calls on my cell phone. But album cover art added a whole other dimension to the music you were listening to. It’s not the same with the covers of tapes, CDs or downloaded cover art from I Tunes. Again, it’s not like I refuse to use anything but an abacus and an Etch-a-Sketch. I’m listening to Pandora as I write this and I have 28 hours of music on my I Phone, so it’s not like I don’t play well in that electronic world. It’s just that album covers have the same kind of mojo for me that books have. Not to mention the occasional surprise when 30 year old sticks, stems and seeds fall out of the crease of my Derek and the Dominos double album cover.

This is not all to say that I don’t read constantly in the electronic realm. I do. Probably too much. I read almost all of my news online, I post work online, and interact extensively through social media, writing forums, and blogs. I love my I Mac, I Pad, I Pod, I Phone, MacBook Pro and Dell laptop, Kindle and I Books and E Books. However, I am finding that I am more apt to grab a hard copy of something to read in the bathroom, where all of the heavy lifting and profound thinking gets done, than to plunk myself down on the throne for the duration with my Kindle. I also have several books that I never finished reading on my Kindle. It’s not because they’re not good books. They ARE good books. It’s not them, it’s me. Out of sight, out of mind.

Anyway, this is supposed to be an entry for my Book Journal – “Alice B. Toklas,” so I’ll try to come to the point, which for me is difficult, in case you hadn’t noticed. First of all, I got the idea for a Book Journal from Jules Archer, who writes tough but luminous poetry and flash fiction and laugh out loud funny, sometimes irreverent, but always thought provoking posts on her blog: Jules Just Write. More on all of this in another post) One of the books Jules mentioned was an old favorite of mine: On Writing; A Memoir of the Craft by  Stephen King. Although, I’d read this book before, this is the kind of book a writer could read once a year and come away with new learning each time. I think this was the third time I’ve read this, and probably the best. It’s that slow learner thing. Another point that Jules made in a blog post was a resolution to read the work of more women authors. Whether or not this is happening consciously with me, it certainly seems to be happening, nonetheless. Maybe it’s just that I admire these authors for being honest, authentic, and sometimes “in your face”  in ways I only aspire to be.

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So – my Alice B. Toklas Book Journal report for January-February goes like this. This is just a list. More detail to follow.

Excavating the Present/           Lisa Harris & (Poetry/Visual Art Collaboration)              Unearthing Eternity                  Nancy Valle

The Empty City                            Berit Ellingsen (Novel)

On Writing                                    Stephen King (Memoir)

After Life                                       Rhian Ellis (Novel)

Flash Fiction Fridays               Robert Vaughan (Flash Fiction Anthology)                                               (Editor, author, anthologist and contributor)

Disparate Pathos                       Meg Tuite (Flash Fiction Chap Book)

Damn Sure Right                       Meg Pokrass (Flash Fiction)

Blank Cake                                   Misti Rainwater-Lite (Poetry)

Pieces for the Left Hand          Robert J. Lennon (Flash Fiction)

Some closing thoughts on all of this. There’s a lot of engaging, inspiring, and life-changing Art, Music and Literature out there that you won’t find in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, USA Today or on Yahoo and Facebook. Most of the really take-no-prisoners, brash, audacious, fresh and original stuff out there is not floating down the mainstream like a big old fat slow ball right over the middle of the plate. While the well mapped out route may get you up and down the mountain safely, sometimes getting lost on that random herd path is what leads you to your true adventure. It’s going to be found in places where you least expect it, when you stretch for it, reach for it, beat the bushes. It’s going to be found with indie musicians, writers, artists – off the beaten path, down back alleys, and in alternative venues. That’s not to say there’s not great stuff in the mainstream, but I think the real game is to be found with those diamonds in the rough, sometimes right in your own backyard. Your Own Backyard – hey – that would be a really cool name for a website!

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