Fiction, Writing

New short story: “Now You Never Call Me Anymore”

November 23, 2022

Mardi Gras masks, one purple, one yellow.
Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

My latest short story, “Now You Never Call Me anymore,” has just been published by Adelaide Literary Magazine. Tina, the main character, is facing an emotional crisis like the one Louis Armstrong sang about: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, when that’s where you left your heart?”

Drawn by a longing for their past, as well as the city’s vibrant music and culture, Tina visits her critically ill ex-boyfriend Matthew, taking pains to hide the trip from her husband. Instead of the closure she hopes to find, she learns a secret that will haunt her present life.

In addition to the web version linked above, there’s an online paperback here. You can also find a regular print edition of the magazine at Amazon.

Whatever format you read in, I hope you enjoy the piece. Please check out the other great writing at Adelaide too. You can find all of my stories from Adelaide and other publications here.

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life, new old age, retirement

Falling

November 7, 2022

Fallen leaves covering ground around tree trunk in front of wooded fence.


I woke up early, my sleep unhinged by daylight saving time, and found that for the third time in barely two months, I had lost a friend. All were about my age, two were taken by cancer, and each was a very special soul who made the world a brighter place.

The one who just passed helped me take my first steps in broadcasting at a college radio station in a basement in Michigan nearly fifty years ago. Another was a grad-school classmate in Washington, both of us trying to hit the big time in the news business. The third was a colleague in the job I retired from, the kind everyone depended on and who always came through.

Because of geography and life changes, I hadn’t been close to any of the three for awhile and kept in touch mainly on social media. It still hurts to know they’re gone, and it scares me a little besides. It’s gotten to the point where my Facebook app auto-completes “condolences.”

I know this goes with my advancing age. I’ve always understood that some of the people I cherish won’t make the journey with me. I’m just not ready for my space to feel so empty so fast, the light beginning to dim like my old regular pub at last call. Tonight I’ll stay home but will hoist a few for my friends and probably listen to this song a few times.

Internet, life, tech

Can’t anybody here fix this thing?

October 13, 2022

Woman with head in hands, frustrated expression in front of laptop.
My latest selfie (Photo actually by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com)

Being ghosted is so sad. Especially by collaborators who’ve been at my elbow since the days of AOL and dial-up. I still need these allies like Seattle needs lattes and the Chicago Bears need a quarterback (again). Yet when I call on them, too often I’m greeted by a swirly blue wheel and the distressing words “Not Responding.”

That’s right, I’m being scorned, dumped, ignored, disrespected by MS Word and Outlook. Was it something I said? I really didn’t think I was asking so much. Can we talk? Maybe you can just show me the morning mail (Not Responding).

Okay, let me update my calendar (Not Responding). Open a new .docx file? (Not Responding). Please save the 6,257 words I’ve just added to my novel-in-progress (I told you already, nudnik, NOT RESPONDING! Go away!). That last one is slightly exaggerated but that’s how it feels. I’d be pulling my hair out if I had any left.

Worst is when the non-response freezes the whole machine. I grit my teeth, restart, and sit there fuming about the wacky-jacks who think Bill Gates is plotting world domination when he probably couldn’t plot a one-car funeral.

I’ve tried running the repair program, un- and reinstalling everything, to no avail. My laptop is no spring chicken and Office 365 is probably such a memory hog that the processor leaps into its own Great Resignation, not to be denied.

I’m about ready to move to a desert island, write everything in charcoal on tree bark, and send it to the mainland by carrier pigeon. Or I can spring for a new laptop. But years ago when I was an undergrad, folks who were clueless and annoying were labeled “not responsible.” Those not-so-good old days are back. Just ask Mr. Jones.

Florida, life, Uncategorized

The island shining before us

October 5, 2022

Beach sunset with waves in foreground.
Our old home

Almost twenty-five years ago, the woman I was seeing (and was crazy about) suggested we take a trip. Our destination was a place in Florida she knew well, since she grew up in Alabama and had been to the Sunshine State many times.

We flew down from Washington DC, where we lived then, landed after dark, and took off in our rental car down a long, seemingly isolated road. I couldn’t see much and wondered where we were headed. Pretty soon I had an answer: paradise.

She’d rented us an Old Florida cabin with a tin roof and a screened porch. We woke up to a dazzling morning, the sun rippling over the Gulf of Mexico with miles of beaches to walk on. We picked up a few of the shells the area was famous for, ate lots of fresh local seafood, relaxed and generally had a magical time on our first vacation as a couple.

I’d never seen this side of Florida since I came from Michigan (and was neither a spring breaker nor a snowbird), but after the trip we both wanted more. We bought a place on the Panhandle that became a second home and where we spent some of the best days of our life together. However, our first visit, the one that started it all, was to Sanibel and Captiva, the barrier islands off Fort Myers. You’ve surely seen pictures of the devastation Hurricane Ian caused. They’re still trying to get the survivors out.

This feels like a loss even though we haven’t been back to Sanibel in years. As I grow older, my memories get smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror, and the island is one more piece of a past I won’t see again. We no longer have our house up the coast either; we sold it after a close call with Hurricane Michael, a monster that would have wiped us out had it landed 20 miles farther west.

If we don’t address climate change fast, there won’t be any paradise left on Earth. And if you’d like to help the people whose homes and lives have been wrecked, “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” put together this list of organizations that are providing relief.

Fiction, life, Uncategorized, Writing

Pants on the ground and the brain

September 20, 2022

Two pairs of pants on hangars.
Photo by Mica Asato on Pexels.com

My name is Dave and I’m a recovering pantser. This has nothing to do with my fashion sense, which doesn’t exist. It definitely isn’t about sex either. But please keep reading anyway.

A “pantser” is one of the two main species of fiction writers, the people who write by the seat of their pants: when they begin a story, they’re not certain where it might lead or how it will end. “Once I get about 300 pages into the manuscript, and still don’t know, I have to stop and figure out how it ends, which [ending] is the most interesting and exciting,” said Elmore Leonard, who’s one of my heroes. “That’s the fun of it. I don’t worry if I will come up with an ending. I will.”

The other kind of writer is the “plotter,” who, as the name implies, figures things out in advance. They prepare thorough outlines and often use flow charts or storyboards detailing each scene, every plot twist, and all the motivations of the characters.

Probably because of my background in journalism, where you’re always writing and updating on the fly, I was a natural pantser when I plunged into my first (and so far unpublished) novel. It worked fine until I got to the ending, which was a big honking blank page. The final version features a hurricane, gunshots, a romantic episode, and a brawl inside a giant fiberglass whale. Does it work? I believe so. Would it have been better with more planning? I’m sure of it.

In addition to changing my writing style, I’m determined to purge pantsing from other areas of my life. I made this decision after my less than meticulous tracking of the chemicals in our backyard pool led to a chlorine overload that would snuff a T-Rex, and a buildup of some troublesome stuff called cyanuric acid or CYA.

The only way to get rid of CYA is to drain small amounts from the pool, refill it, test the water, and repeat as necessary. Drain, refill, test, start again. I’ve done this a half-dozen times, each episode requiring some trips up and down the stairs. My legs are sore and my brain is half past dead, but sometimes we learn the hard way. What’s important is that we do learn.

I chalk it up to “Life 101,” which is the name of a wonderful song by Rick and Jilda Watson. Rick, who left us much too soon, also used “Life 101” as the title of his newspaper column in Alabama. However, there’s another tune that sounds as if it was written just for this post. So I’ll leave you with Lyle Lovett and his band playing, “Pants Is Overrated.”

coronavirus, Covid 19 pandemic, depression, Pandemic diary

A pandemic diary: The long road

September 13, 2022

Photo by Andrew Neel on Pexels.com. (That’s not me; I’m fine.)

You had Covid and it wasn’t much more than a cold. Or maybe you spent a couple of days in bed but were soon back at work, the gym, and the pub. Only now you’re badly fatigued, short of breath, and you have a brain fog that won’t quit.

You may be dealing with long Covid, one of the most mystifying and frightening effects of the pandemic. Though the condition was identified in 2020, the World Health Organization says it’s still “poorly understood” by doctors, and millions of us will be living with this horror for years to come. These are the sobering facts from the WHO and CDC.

  • More than 200 symptoms are associated with long Covid.
  • Besides the ones mentioned above, they include joint pain, digestive disorders, headache, dizziness, depression, trouble sleeping, numbness, and changes in menstrual cycles.
  • Some patients get autoimmune or multiple organ issues, which in turn lead to diabetes, heart and neurological conditions.
  • There’s no test for long Covid. Your routine results (blood, x-rays etc.) might be normal.
  • Nearly one in five American adults who’ve had the virus has long Covid symptoms.
  • Younger adults are more susceptible than older ones.
  • People who had severe Covid, had pre-existing conditions, or weren’t vaccinated are at higher risk of becoming long haulers. However, anyone who’s been infected can get it.

All the people who’ve tuned out the pandemic probably don’t grasp how debilitating long Covid can be, or even that it exists. But imagine being in the prime of life, running marathons and climbing mountains, and suddenly you can’t work or even walk.

The only way to be sure this won’t happen is to never be infected in the first place, which due to a combination of caution and luck I haven’t been. So get one of the new boosters and hold onto those masks, even if you’re the only person in your social circle, office, or subway car who’s wearing one. It’s worth it to avoid what could be a lifetime of struggle and pain. Take care and please be safe.

Florida, Internet, life

Artifacts

August 22, 2022

You never know what surprises are lurking in the basement – not the evil stuff like dry rot, zombies, or shag carpeting, but things you’ve forgotten you own. A round of late-summer decluttering brought forth a relic from what feels like eons past: a ZTE 7431 mobile phone.

AT&T phone with screen lit up.
Remember these?

I wouldn’t call this a dumb phone like flip phones were, yet compared to what we have now, it’s about as useful as a carrier pigeon. I used it to send my very first text, which was probably full of typos caused by those itsy-bitsy buttons on the keypad. I don’t know why it thinks we’re in 1980; it’s not that ancient.

When these phones came out, just being online was still a revelation. The user guide breathlessly advises, “Carry your inbox in your pocket! Browse the web, send and receive messages, and listen to music, all at once!” And AT&T had figured out that social media were the key to the gold mine. You could, “Unleash your social life. Keep on top of your world with AT&T Social Net, which allows you to access the latest news as well as popular social networks — including Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace — all in one place.” (If you don’t recall MySpace, relax: you didn’t miss anything.)

Though the phone is no good anymore, it did hold a few dozen long-missing photos. The first one, a selfie on a train, was probably taken in a moment of boredom. (Honestly, I don’t always look so serious!)

The other pictures – souvenirs from a kayak trip, a great dinner with my wife, and a walk on the beach – are memories I cherish. They’re as important to me as all the black and white shots my mother saved in shoeboxes and the ones handed down by my grandparents and great-grandparents, a few of which date back to the Civil War.

When digital cameras became popular, some people warned that unprinted photos and the moments they captured would be forgotten. Obviously that didn’t happen. But before you get rid of a broken or outdated device, remember that it could be a time capsule filled with pieces of your life.

Beach sunset.
Florida, life

On the beach and the road to nowhere

August 12, 2022

Beach at sunset.

I’ve loved the water since I was a kid splashing in the pool at the Y and the lakes around Kalamazoo, Michigan. In college, I was too uncool for spring break debauchery-by-the-sea, and never in my wildest dreams imagined actually owning a place at the beach. Then my future wife took me to Florida’s Emerald Coast, which was like the title of a Country Joe McDonald album: “Paradise With an Ocean View.”*

We bought a condo, got married on the beach, traded up to a house, and had a lot of great years. Eventually though, we lost our nirvana to the plague that’s upending beach life everywhere: Big money.

Our laid-back community of classic Florida homes was overrun by temples of excess like this one. Got seven million bucks? The building boom triggered a swarm of tourists who sat on the beautiful white sand staring at their phones, then spent their nights getting hammered, shooting off fireworks, and keeping us awake. Since we sold our house, the area has gotten so choked with traffic that there’s talk of building a parking structure. That’s right. They’re literally going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Sadly, the Emerald Coast is far from the only place in this situation. As reported by a recent New York Times story, people all over the country are throwing money into beachfront palaces – which may soon be washed away or knocked down by climate change. One reader commented, “We once owned a three-generation little beach house…a place from which to explore the world of sand and sea…We no longer own it and it’s been “renovated” into a monstrous home…right at the lip of the Atlantic.”

The Times article raises the disgusting prospect that, through federal flood insurance and erosion control programs, “We Will All End Up Paying For Someone Else’s Beach House.” Nobody paid for our beach house except us. We put both our money and our hearts into it and got a lot back. That’s why selling was tough. At least we left on our own terms, unlike the owner of the place in this viral clip.

Not being one for schadenfreude, I don’t relish the thought of all those huge homes meeting the same fate. I’ll be damned if I’ll pick up the tab, though. The only thing I want to pay for is a serious, urgent effort to halt climate change.

We can take a lesson from the prophetically titled ’50s novel and movie “On the Beach,” in which the last few survivors of a nuclear war cling to life in Australia until fallout kills everyone. The closing shot in the film is of a Salvation Army banner that reads, “There is still time…Brother.”


*Not to be confused with “Paradise and Lunch” by Ry Cooder, “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by the late Meat Loaf, and definitely not “Cheeseburger in Paradise” from Jimmy Buffet.

Fiction, Writing

New story: “Algorithms and Lies”

July 29, 2022

Do Not Trust Robots.

My latest story, “Algorithms and Lies,” has just been published by The Fictional Cafe. It’s the cautionary tale of Mick Sanford, an old-school crime writer bedeviled by a new breed of editor, a bot named Max with boundless artificial intelligence.

Contemptuous of her and the modern world in general, Mick tries to bluff and bluster his way to publication. But he ends up as the villain in a story he never meant to write, one that could have been scripted in “2001: A Space Odyssey” – or in the Twilight Zone.

I don’t want to be a spoiler, but if you’re a fan of classic science fiction, it’s fair to say that like HAL 9000, Max blows Isaac Asimov’s laws of robotics to smithereens. I hope you like it. Check out the other great writing in The Fictional Cafe too.

humor, life, nature

I love nature. It hates me.

July 13, 2022

Grey tree frog on leaf.
This isn’t Kermit (Photo from the Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources)

“Don’t forget the frog,” is a sentence that one might not expect to hear from one’s partner. Typically, the other person might remind you to take out the recycling, pick up some cat food, collect a kid from soccer practice, or blast Roundup on the weeds.

Around here, though, we’re facing what seems like a Biblical onslaught of frogs, one of which I recently captured and neglected to return to the wild. (Please don’t send the ASPCA after me. No amphibians were harmed in the making of this post.)

The critters descended after we installed a small above-ground pool. Longtime readers might recall me griping about the same problem in our former home, which came with a 36,000-gallon mini-ocean in the yard.

Though it’s a fraction of that size, the new one is like a hot singles bar for little grey tree frogs. Despite the name, their color varies from green to brown to grey. The one I caught was almost white, as if it’d been dipped in ashes. They’re only a couple inches long, tops. But oy, are they loud.

Every night, just below our windows, we hear this racket. It’s so bad that if we crash before they do, we have to turn up a white-noise machine in the bedroom to drown them out. It’s definitely mating season. At least we haven’t found eggs or tadpoles in the pool; one time in the old place we had a veritable tsunami of those.

The only way to curb the croaking and noodling is to catch them and move them to a creek branch down the street, which is also just outside a big community pool. The evening after my latest relocation job, we heard a lone voice, almost plaintively calling out for an FWB (frog with benefits).