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Allowing a day to heal at my host’s comfortable place. Her cat checks on me intermittently as I raid her bookshelf. Like the company my novel keeps…
Hello friends! On April 4th of this year, I released my debut novel, I Blew Up Juarez. Proudly, I sold several copies and ran out of printed books!
I intended to put out the next “book” this holiday season, but I have another idea, and this is where I need your help!
On AUGUST 31, 2014 I’m sending out a quick survey for all readers of I Blew Up Juarez via email to collect your thoughts on how the story continues, even if you’re not finished reading the book! Exciting, right?
If you are interested in becoming a participant, please send an email titled “FOCUS GROUP” to email@example.com by AUGUST 30 so that you’re included.
It will be a bcc interaction, so don’t worry about your individual opinion being lost in the mix.
I value your insight. Thanks!
Author, I Blew Up Juarez
How dare you, Union Pacific, block off the ONLY road to the neighborhood I need to get to!! Alright, fine, roll on through…
…keep it moving…
…geeeeeeeeeez how long is this train? Hurry up slowpoke…
…wait, WHAT? Why are you stopping? Here?? IN FRONT OF ME???
(several torporific minutes pass)
BACKWARDS?!?! You just went– you were going — GAWDDAMMITSUMBITCCCCHHHH!
I HATE THIS PLACE!!!
My foot step into the first room made a hollow noise against the centuries-old wooden floor. Instinctively I fold my arms tight across the chest, for some reason feeling very invasive in this person’s – persons? – home.
To the left, the estate sale organizers had created a three-tier shelving with boxes full of “chinch”: sewing bobbins, Christmas cards, crochet needles, rope. Before dismissing them all I land upon a box labeled, “Stationary” and proceed to shuffle through its contents.
The organizers want $8.00 for the whole box, but I decide I only want these particular parchments.
The next room I enter is full of blankets, handmade all, crocheted or quilted by the same woman who sent correspondence on Little Stinker paper. This is where I experience The Clocker. She’s the person (usually a she, sorry but it’s true!) who follows you around to see what you value so she can grab it under you. Her joy at these events is not in finding something that resonates with her, but in finding something that she took away from someone who admired it. Psycho, right? Well, she starts by placing her hand on a pile of needlepoint napkins.
“Aren’t these gorgeous?” she asks. Her hand strokes the top one, a very nicely stitched sunflower design, as her eyes widen for my response.
I give her my best, “Meh” and continue forward.
She tries another play beside the stack of boxes. “Are those cigar boxes? Ooh, I want to see one.”
I turn and find she’s right behind me, violating all personal space rules. I appease her by lifting the stack of boxes with one hand, then placing them in front of her. Before she gets a chance to play “Do you like this one?” again, I swipe out the large box from the stack and keep it moving.
My friend finds me playing with a set of binoculars. “Have you had a chance to check out the books yet?”
I adjust the focus in my left eye to stare in the room across from me. “Nope.”
She nods with that nod of, you need to check it out.
I put down the binoculars, cross into the room I was spying into for a bit before I journeyed towards the reading room. As I pass through the corridor, I notice The Clocker has found the binoculars and is busy pretending to use them.
The reading room is where I meet the gentleman of the house. Yellowed corrugated tubes line a segment of a wall. Maps. Large shipping trunks fill the center of the room; my friend’s haggling on the blue and brass one. There are measuring tools, a surveyor’s scope, and medallions from all over. A well-traveled man, the highlights of his years being the early 20th century.
My eyes circle up to the bookshelves and I observe a mixture of children’s classics, encyclopaedia, a book on house keeping, and then rows upon rows of engineering-based books. Titles like, “Metals,” “Measurements,” one simply “Engineering.” My friend happens to pass behind me, “He was into digging. You should see the big tools in the garage.” I shall.
As I skim the shelves, I put together a story of a small-town boy with an incredibly busy mind. He marries his high school sweetheart and takes right off to the oil fields, working his way from entry level to lead engineer before he’s in his 20s. He’d be gone for months, sailing the world on large frigates, learning new techniques, putting his own to practice, every once in a while sending Lulubelle (my name for the needlepointer) a gift in exchange for a letter. They were a couple that used the power of written word to keep it together, and they managed to live a long and productive life.
I smile at my happy little made-up-on-the-spot tale, then remember to pull the books I want before The Clocker finds me again.
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Allowing a day to heal at my host’s comfortable place. Her cat checks on me intermittently as I raid her bookshelf. Like the company my novel keeps…
Let’s go ahead and assess this damage.
Left foot meets right foot and I bow forward. Already I feel a pull in my lower back. Continue to weigh my torso so that my arms sink along the side of my legs, hands planting onto the floor. Definitely a strain. One more measure: bend the elbows to sink deep into the back leg stretch, ass high in the air. I freeze at the sensation of a red hot poker blade dragging itself from top of thigh to the center of my lower back.
That’s not a strain, ladies and gentleman, that’s a muscle tear.
With that I lower to the ground, fan my legs, and extend a stretch to the right then gingerly to the left. The damage is officially from the right waist to the back of the right ankle. I’m an expert at fucking up my body.
I harness Bobby to include Bear’s Texas A&M dog tag (to signal we’re friendlies in the OSU/OU territory) and with bottled water in hand, we head down the street.
Middle America is quiet at 11:13 am CST. Cloudy and breezy, a welcome after a bitch of a heat wave over the weekend. The neighborhood I’m staying in is quaint, provencal, and proudly maintained. Every house a little story, every yard an expression of self-worth. The large diesel commercial trucks parked in the driveways likely cost more than the houses. I imagine the person who drives that truck to work is enjoying a few days, maybe hours, of respite before he takes off, back to the fields.
What are the wives of roughnecks like? By garden alone, you can tell she’s a proud Oklahoma woman, growing rosemary, sage, cactus, purple-tipped sawgrass. Nothing exotic; a botanical expression of Midwest culture – familiar, comfortable, native. As we continue down the street I note the various license plates representing nations: Cherokee. Choctaw. Osage. Texas.
A man in a wide-brimmed straw hat driving a black beat up F-150 offers us a wave of greeting as we turn down on 25th street. Bobby’s being serenaded by the local dog community, all stir-crazy that the little black boy bops freely down the middle of the street while they tug helplessly on their chains.
My skin warms as the approaching noon sun lifts centerward, and I start to feel my hip slip. Now I’m very concentrated on the intensity of this injury: the tear in the muscle interferes with my ability to comfortably propel forward; it feels as if my hip is slipping out of position. The spirit is always willing, but today, we’ll cut this walk short.
Bob and I turn up onto the main road back to our street and we are eyed by a very bothered, obese Jack Russell terrier. She frightens me as she tears across the busy street to defend her home from an unsuspecting Bobby. She nipped at him lightly, but Bob took it as a greeting, wagging his tail with delight. Her owner soon recovered her and we had a short but comforting exchange – all is fine, Bobby’s fine, I hope she’s okay.
We are welcomed back to our street by a cacophony of curious dogs, and I enjoy watching Roberto Tiberius promenade down the center of the street, panting towards his subjects, one black paw after another trotting towards his familiar truck and house.
Meanwhile, I actualize the severity of my damage and decide to stay here in the land of the roughnecks until I’m fully healed.
There should be more people out here than there is.
No matter, as the rental chariot of the day, one Ford Fiesta, slides into a parking space in front of Paradise Grill. Immediately the smell of salt rushes up my nose and through my skull, making the center of my scalp tingle.
Bob unloads, overexcited to be out of the house and in a public place. His black nose busies nudging bush branches as I and my proven co-captain journey towards the deck.
Bummer. The grill is closed.
We find my favorite two Adirondack chairs vacant over to the right. She pulls out her pack of smokes while I wrangle my dog to at least try to stay in the vicinity. I let go of his lead and let him visit with the people making the short climb up the side wall to reach the deck we’re on. Cloudy night makes the full moon a full smear up and to the left of us. The Gulf of Mexico lap lap laps in quick tempo as the tide shifts out. The water is a soft grey, perfectly reflecting the clouds above it, creating a silvery soft vortex opened only to us three, a portal of infinite possibility.
I sigh. “I wanted to do something to commemorate this day, but the grill is closed.” I smack my own forehead. “We drove right past that Circle K. I coulda stopped and picked up some beers before we made it down!” I stay looking at her. In her amiable style, she says, “No worries,” and I assume it’s because we still have a whole ‘nother cigarette to burn. I shimmy forward on my long seat and straighten up to announce, “Come on. Before we get comfortable. Everyone back to the car.”
The Circle K has a long faced woman working the counter tonight. This is such an important day, a successful day; today I got rid of that last bit of trash. Consciously amending my sobriety clause, I wind past the salty snacks and to the double door coolers.
We’re doing it. We’re gonna have an alcoholic beverage, because that’s what you do when you succeed; you raise a glass and you let yourself be giddy. My eyes scan the options and I frown. No Dos Equis.
There it is.
“If you’re gonna fall off the wagon, do it with Sam,” I proclaim as I lift the sixer off its shelf. That’s when I notice the wine case. Shoot! I saunter over and see it’s the bring-a-bottle-to-a-dinner-party variety. I figure one cannot go wrong with a Chateau St Michelle Riesling if it’s already chilled in the case. She grabs the bottle while I return the stock. “I think it’s a cork. Yeah, it’s a cork,” she says fiddling with the top. “We’re gonna need a bottle opener.”
“No we’re not, we still have the tool bag.” The tool bag. One of the things I told her to keep up with when we loaded the car. ‘Be familiar with this bag; it’s going on our trip.’ She pointed out I was missing needle-nosed pliers. Add to travel list.
“We have a flat head screwdriver and a hammer.” Over the top of the bottle she’s holding, I mimic the screwdriver in my left, the hammer in my right, and one focused hit to the head. “Bottle opener.”
Although we should probably add a corkscrew bottle opener to the tool bag. Add to travel list.
The twenty dollar bill in my wallet turned out to be a ten dollar bill, so back to the original plan. We head back to the beach; this time, over to the long bench overlooking the south part of the deck. The tide had carried out some more. I use my key chain opener to serve our beers. We toast to our great day, clink necks, and enjoy the deep amber…
[NOTE: Got big news for you, but why just blurt it out when I can make it a three-part reveal? :P Here's an attempt at flash NON-fiction...]
“The thing is, it’s been a long time since I traveled with anyone across the country. Thirty two states I’ve done completely on my own. But when I did have someone I could travel with, it was nice. I liked the company. That’s why I’m putting it out there; I need a wingman. A travel buddy. I figured since you’ve been trying to get out of town for awhile and you really don’t care where you’re going, as long as it’s outside Florida, I should give you a try, you know, see if you can really hang the way I need you to hang.”
She nods with understanding, then cranes her neck.
“You see, I have severe trust issues, like, SEVERE. I’m always the go-to person, the rely on person, the one who has to start and end the fights, you know…”
“The Protector type.”
“I can see that about you.”
“Well, I’m a practical person.”
Her order arrives but she’s not touching it. I float my left hand over her tray and insist, nonverbally, she start, but she waves me off, nonverbally saying, I can wait.
“You have to understand when I’m out on my own, I do whatever I want. I engage whoever I want. I plan to be in a state of constant discovery. If not discovering new places and scenery, then discovering how far over the edge can I push someone.”
Now that was a deliberate line because I want to see her reaction. Instead, she offers this:
“I can tell you’re the kind of person who does things within reason.”
“And if you can reason an action, you’ll do it.”
“Also yes. And I need you to go along with it, see? Something’s going down, I give you an instruction, there’s no time for discussion, you do it, you’re in, you’re out. Just like that.”
“Like, if I call your phone, you NEED to pick it up.”
“Right, because if we’re travelling together, what other reason can there be for you to call?”
“Exactly! And if I’m on the other end and I say, ‘go to the car, get the tire iron, bring it to me now!’ you gotta do it.”
Her face turns up, and she makes a half snarl, half sneeze expression to her right side.
“I’d come back with like, seven tire irons because I wouldn’t know which one you’d prefer.”
Left fist into right cupped hand signaled confidence in this proselyte possible progeny.
“Right! And if I only need one, you throw the rest!”
She stands and mimics one crazed urban ninja, tossing tire irons like shurikens.
My order is delivered to the table. The tattoo-sleeved, dark-haired, bearded fella would have been flirtable had I not caught the flatness of his ass.
I part my meal, she divvies hers, and we share plates across the table…
This morning’s dream I was revisiting one of the locations where I was sourcing data for my Penn State University graduate research. What played back was the moment I visited with an informant, an octogenarian, a lifetime resident of the town, and his face when I entered his living room. He was standing, but you could tell it was difficult for him to remain standing, so I insisted we sit after he clasped my hand in greeting. You could tell his wife at this stage in their marriage had succumbed to full-time care-taking, as she shook her head at him and told him to stop staring. But his face, dear reader, it was the most awesome face I’ve ever observed! His blue eyes were wide and brilliant, the lines around them were lifted, his smile was half mooned and fixed in awe. Although his skin was liver splotched and Northern Tier pale, there was a glow. I’ve never experienced such genuine appreciation for my presence, and I doubt I ever will again. The glow, his glow, was what woke me up this morning, necessary after quite a tumultuous week.
So I was motivated to look up Ye Olde Thesis, the first work I published as an adult. Mom has a hardback copy, the other, for whatever reason, my ex insisted on keeping. But it is a public work, and accessible on the Webby Web, and if you are in need of a Dostoevsky-esque work to help you get to sleep, feel free to download: https://etda.libraries.psu.edu/paper/8320/
Appendix C has all the phenomenological aspects of my research experience, but my fave part is the thesis conclusion. I’ve cut and pasted it for you here, and bear in mind, this was my mindset seven years ago as of this post. My writing style is much sharper and I’m less idealistic, but the question, Can communication technology bring communities together? is still very much fresh in my mind:
I don’t consider this research as “work”. It is and ultimately this is merely
data collection. But for me, this thesis is insight to the rural way of life, the
culture of PA and an overall validation that I’m doing my part to positively
contribute to a rural dweller’s well-being.
I kept a thesis journal the entire time at Penn State University. When it
came time to prepare this reflection, I sat and read all my entries. It was
humorous and insightful and depressing all at the same time. I found the entry
that described this idea about communication technology and its impact on
society. To read it now after the research experience is humbling. Where my
mind was at then and where my mind is now is the same, except now I can run
my mouth and use science to back it up!
I close this thesis with the actual journal
May 20, 2007: Discovery. I haven’t really accomplished a damn
thing in the realm of this MS other than realizing how frightened I
am of people that are genuinely smarter than me. As much as I
avoid competition I find that it’s essential in order to get things
done around here.
I’ve whined and moped enough. Feigned interest and appreciation
enough. There’s plenty of people leaving this institution that truly
deserve the degrees they are awarded. I, on the other hand, am
sitting here waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Let’s face it: the two things you are good at is 1) telling people what
to do and 2) running your mouth as if you know what you’re talking
about. How transparent do you want to continue to be?
What do I like? I like the way I was raised; amongst different
groups of people within a very isolated community. I like to
interface with people, and I seek out those that have something
strikingly different about them. I like to fix things and situations
because I tend to be the one in the room least likely to panic. I want
to help. I always want to help, to the point where I sacrifice my
efforts for the greater good.
I’m a fan of technology related to communication. The Internet,
cell phones, GPS, GIS; it’s all useful. I don’t care to know how it
works; not anymore anyways. But I have this notion that of all
technological advancements afforded to us, communication
technology has helped a good majority of us to connect with one
So can communication technology bring communities together? I
think of how I grew up on base and had to correspond via letters
and anxiously wait for a response. I listened to local radio stations
and we watched European and AFN channels on TV. Now, with the
advancements in technology, the means of communicating have
garnered a quicker response time and have brought separated lives
much more closer [sic], even if in all dimensions except physical.
I figure that I’ve learned more about rural communities to respect
them and to certify that these areas are enriched by many aspects.
I think by investing in rural communities, by making communication
technology more assessable, community and economic growth can
But of course, what is most cherished about these neighborhoods is
that there is low reliance on mechanisms that speed processes
along. Even in that one reading where the guy had to invest in
another phone line since his ordering system was upgraded by his
distributor, people are really ambivalent of investing in anything
that changes their way of life. So how do you “sell” communication
technology in a tradition-heavy, low maintenance community? Will
the investments benefit a few? How will local government and
businesses assist in this investment? What would it do to a
I feel that collaboration has proved in many dimensions the
capability of people to change for the greater good. I think people
that dwell in rural areas are afraid of what they do not know, and
naturally shy away from strange technology. We also are
experiencing a population aging and thus contributing to the local
economy by lesser and lesser means.
Communities that have similar issues but are only limited by
distance can develop a grass-roots e-organization with the ability to
talk to each other on how to manage similar problems. I think
about the distances that female Australian farmers travel just so
they can carry dialogue and not feel so alone in the world given
their regional isolation. We need to know that we aren’t alone in
this big world. We can shatter barriers by promoting dialogue
across shoulders without the stigmas of physical features. And I
think when people are given an opportunity to learn from one
another without working thru a middle man (like extension offices
or government agencies) we feel a sense of empowerment and
capability. And from there, anything seems possible. And
communication tools like the Internet can help.
That sounds about right. –IMES
As in ‘go’, as in ‘green light’…clean ups on every page. Especially check out my I Blew Up Juarez tab…did I answer your questions satisfactorily? Think I covered ‘what is the book about?’ and ‘where can I find it?’ as succinctly as possible. And please do Like the page, but only if you mean it ;)
You know how you look at a thing too long you don’t know if you’re done? I’ve updated two of my Pages, “All About Von” and “Make Contact”. Well if you could just dance through those, offer edits where necessary, so I can stop looking at this, I’d really appreciate it!
Going to walk away and shower while you do that. Maybe eat lunch. Yeah, lunch…