Sunday, September 16, 2018

exercise: describe someone who you saw, perhaps, at the grocery store:

She could only be described as, but with a sense of appreciation, a proverbial older lady. I was in my car, getting ready to leave the parking lot of the store when I saw her moving about at the automatic doorway. It was more than a quick glance. She had been standing by the doors until the bus pulled up and then she walked her buggy back to the door, took her two bags of groceries, and headed toward the bus. And then she was gone.

I don’t know why I was intrigued. She really made no difference to me but out of curiosity the next time I was at the store I wandered over to the portico where the bus had stopped. I was wondering when the bus came and how short of time did she have to shop and where would the bus go next. There was no timetable sign that I could find.

In a flash, what I saw:
-glowing white hair, nicely cut, thin, straight posture, an alive face that would smile a lot

-chino slacks, white, long-sleeve, high-collar shirt that looked ironed, tread hiking shoes, belt, relatively good stuff not worn out leftover clothes

-sun hat (not straw) $25 at Cabela's or $60 at Mahoney’s

-light weight knapsack holding her purse

-two bags of groceries

-walked with determination w/o obvious age affects

describe a scene that begins: “It was the first time I killed a man”

It was the first time I killed a man, and the only time, of course, when I blasted that SOB with his own shotgun.

I did it in a fit of rage, of revenge, of collecting a bill long overdue, plus accrued interest. “Accrued interest” is one of those fancy lawyerly legal phrases. Some of us aren’t as dumb as you’d think. But, I was the collection agency. I was the bank. I was the biased judicial system. I was the judge and I was the executioner. And proud of it. I’d do it again.

But at the same time I feel empty.

His name was Donald Larson and he was the chairman and CEO of a very successful bank in our town. They had four remote locations, owned a slew of strip malls, those sort of bland four-plexes that seem to pop up like weeds along the four-lane. Larson was the major owner, according to the obit, a family man, Christian, loved his family, and loved his work.

What a load of crap!

He loved money and he loved what money got him: status, friends, women. His widow, not just your ordinary trophy wife either, who apparently did love him more than he loved her, contested his will which gave about everything to his mistress. The widow got the house and a bit of a stipend for support along with a huge outstanding loan. The mistress got the beach house, most of the money, and even got the Corvette although the widow got a pound of revenge using a ball bat as best as she could on the ‘Vette. Apparently she didn’t know about the mistress. Good for her, the widow that is! I wanted to meet her and hold her and make her feel a little better but I’m not allowed to do that any more. Besides it probably not be good manners for the widow and her husband’s murderer to hug and share coffee. Not likely to happen with me now in prison. But, we girls got to stick together!

He was bossy. Rude. Unrewarding. I’d heard it was wise to keep out of arm’s length, too. He’d pinch your butt and then laugh. It was a wonder that anyone could work for him. But, in this economy you need the money so you do the time. I think he felt put upon that people would leave his employment for better wages and better benefits and better atmosphere. Like he just could not see that he was a class-A jerk. You had to wonder just how rotten he was and just how many other people were happy to see him dead and gone.

It only took a moment, too. Have you ever shot a 12-gauge? Kicks like a mule and the noise about broke my eardrums. Tears a right big hole in a man’s chest. The buckshot that missed ripped up a lot of wall and the hutch behind him. The post-mortem said the SOB was dead before he hit the ground. I don’t know if that’s possible but it sure sounds good.

Never mind that our son had more gunshot residue on him, than me, he standing off to the side. Never mind that there was only two distinct prints on the gun--my son’s and mine. But also, what I never quite realized was why Wilson kept a loaded shotgun in the broom closet next to the kitchen. It was too convenient I thought for a place to hide it from their son, too easy for someone like me to find it when his wife mentioned it one day.

I wasn’t happy that I killed him. It satisfied my need for revenge that the courts could not achieve. After he’d ruined my husband to the point of suicide, he wanted to shake hands and hug as if to sympathize and make things right. I refused. I tired to spit in his face but he realized what was about to happen and made his retreat.

But, the law is on the side of the rich. My husband was not rich. I’m not rich. The employees are not rich. Most of us feel fortunate to have income and a car and food and nice place to live. We don’t want to rock the boat, much. But he ruined my husband’s health. He killed my husband’s drive and spirit. He killed my husband. Donnie Larson could intimidate anyone: his wife, my husband, me, our boy, his boy!

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I fine with that. In this case, I think I just hurried the process along.

Monday, August 20, 2018

(writing exercise) Kill Fee

 “Enrique is a problem, I’ve heard.”

“You would be doing me a favor. Doing the association a favor. Any more of his craziness and the rest of us are out of business. You’re out of business, too. The cops’ll be sticking close to him. He’s gotten to be too much of a problem and they’re getting ready to take him.”

“It’ll have to be soon.”

They sat in a corner of a not-in-their-neighborhood neighborhood coffee house. The place was noisy with customers, the drive up window when it opened, the air-powered door bell at the drive up, and the expresso machine all going at once. The sun was bright in the windows and people ignored these two, facing each other, one on the sofa and the other across from the first, in a straight-back chair, or three of them if you noticed and counted the other man sitting at the other end of the sofa seemingly interested in his tea. This man, at the end of the sofa by himself, was slender looking but sat upright, alert, confident, and dangerous. The man at the other end, his boss, was moderately aged and sized, white shirt, tie, nice shoes, all the makings of a profitable business man. He was that, of course. The man sitting across from him, in the chair, was on the short, stocky side. Casual sport coat look. Cropped hair. No ex-military bearing at first glance. Cold eyes at second glance. Younger than either of the other two by fifteen years. His hands sat quietly in his lap. The boss spoke.

“I hear we have a couple of days, at most. In fact, I know we have only a couple of days. It’ll have to be quick. The cops are collecting everything for one hard push. Take down Enrique and have enough to keep him in jail until trial. Once they get the okay they’ll move within hours. There won’t be much warning.”

“He would run,” said the young man, Marco. “If anyone would panic and run, he would. I don’t see Enrique going down with the ship. His or anyone else’s.”

“He already has a plan. I know that much but I don’t know any details. Whether he gets bail or not, and I’m betting he will, he’s got a plan. The word is he’s already bought one of the judges. The cops even have his plane watched. I didn’t even know he had a plane. I don’t have a plane. How is it he’s got a plane? He’ll have to drive like hell to get anywhere from here. Or go to ground. But the after-effect will be that we --me and the rest of our friends-- will take on more accumulated heat. Time is important.”

It wasn’t important to add how he knew this. It was only important to emphasize he knew and express the right amount of urgency. Too much pleading and the price for the job would go up. Too little and he would be wasting a lot of money.

“He’ll be on his guard,” said Marco.

“Count on it. I suppose I don’t have to remind you to be professional. You always are. We want this retired cleanly. You’re the only one I can trust to do it. Let me amend that, you’re the only one I can trust to do it right. You’re the best because you’re good at it and you’re good at it ‘cause you stay calm and apart.”

Marco sat quietly and spoke quietly, when he spoke, as it wasn’t really necessary to say anything, almost as if he were disinterested. He was not not interested but entirely professional. Now, he looked out the window as a car approaching the drive-up window passed their window. It was good to know he was the association’s only hope. He wasn’t greedy but he wasn’t stupid either. This endeavor would take a mighty dose of courage and planning including an exit plan. A good plan, though, helped allay need for further courage. There really wasn’t a question about his kill fee. It would be whatever he said. Nor would it be too high or too low. The money would be nice. Marco had a stash for that future date when he, too, would have to run. It was the job. Done right, he would be used again and each time he would collect a handsome fee.

“Forty,” said Marco.

The boss’s eyebrows jumped up ever so slightly at that figure.

“I’m the one who takes the heat,” said Marco. “So far the cops don’t even know that I’m in town but once they do I won’t be able to spit without getting harassed. That’s even before the job. Afterwards, if they don’t know I’m here I can get out and away. If they find out I’m here I’ll have to go under myself.” He tapped his front teeth with a finger nail, thinking out loud.

The boss smiled, sipped his coffee as if to take his time about making a decision. The price had been less than what he collected from his business associates to do the job. Why not make a little on the side? As an administrative fee? A kill fee of his own?

“You, my friend, are worth the price.” He paused again, sipped his coffee again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

[writing exercise] “Before the Kill Fee”

The real problem was Enrique Donaldson’s continuing to cause trouble for the more comfortable and successful members of the business alliance. But the on-rushing Enrique had to keep pushing all this “new” product stuff and “up market” lingo until of course his profile began to enlarge and be noticed by the cops, at the irritation of the alliance. The boss sold off one of his distribution lines just to avoid a future confrontation with Enrique. But the boss was still the biggest operator in the city and the biggest target. A target for the cops and the impatient know-it-alls like Enrique. Enrique would have to go.

The problem, for the alliance, was “good” hit men did not grow on trees. Good meant reliable. Quiet. Professional. Knew when to not make the shot. There were plenty of trigger-happy wannabes. They were young, ex-military (they said), dishonorable discharges more likely, government drop outs, quick to show they could shoot and prove they possessed cojones but slow to show they had brains. Some couldn’t follow orders if they were drawn in crayon.

One of the newest guns, Billy-something-or-other, whacked a lower-level dealer who was holding back. It was as if Billy wanted to quickly show the upper management he could to the job. Billy did the job, okay, if wiping out the dealer was the only criteria, but got caught about two hours later and then pleaded guilty, which kept him out of a trial and away from the chair. Seeing him in court on the evenings news showed a stupid kid who thought he was a tough hombre slowly realizing he was going to spend the rest of his natural born life in prison.

Business all across town had taken a hit as well as did the dealers who ducked for cover while users scavenged for product. 

There hadn’t been a hit for another two years but it had taken two years for business to settle down and make money. Then, Enrique.

Not concerned that he was about to rip the business alliance apart, for he was never sure just how well he was a part of the alliance, Enrique Donaldson, a mid-level dealer with a good system and good supply, making more money then he had enough sense to know and appreciate, caught, he said, one of his bottom-level dealers skimming. How much and was it worth the wrath of the cops if this lower level part of the structure were erased were questions barely spoken aloud and of course not answered. The more higher-up suppliers never completely trusted the dealership and some internal leakage was expected. Too much and it had to be dealt with, usually with a stern talking to, following by a usually more effective visit from the muscle.

Enrique had gone right to the dealer, a poor kid, black, living at home with his invalid mom, a story ready made for the hearts and minds of all other poor people, and in front of the kid’s mom pulled the trigger, as if thinking maybe by word of mouth his potency would be enhanced. The old woman was under some heavy sedation and not much use to the cops but the neighbors had been more than helpful and cops pretty much knew who pulled trigger except of course Enrique’s driver, a skinny, stupid ex-crack addict by the name of Reynolds Something or Something Reynolds was in the apartment, too, which made knowing who exactly shot the kid a tough call to make.

Either way, Enrique would have to go.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Diners and Dinners

One Year’s Eating Out Adventures (totally unscripted). If they’re on this list they’re worth checking out. Most are within the vicinity of Johnson City. No national chains.

Moe’s BBQ (located in JOCY and Asheville)
Pilot Hill General Store, (Limestone, Tenn.)
Hokie Smokie (in JOCY across from The Mall)
Firehouse BBQ (on Walnut Street towards downtown from campus)
Phil’s Dream Pit (at the Eastern Star exit off I-26 between JOCY and Kingsport)
Carolina Barbeque (Newland, N.C.)
Heartwood Visitor's Center (Abingdon, Va. updated 6/14/18)
Bob's Dairyland (Roan Mtn., Tenn. updated 6/14/18)

Hot Dogs:
JC Cardinal Park

Burger / General Fare places:
Burger Bar (at the Hilton Hotel in JOCY)
Burger Hut (across from the Elizabethton Airport)
Mid-City Grill (in JOCY across from the Farmer’s Market Pavilion)
Burger Bar (in Bristol, Va. not Bristol, Tenn.)
Hawg and Dawg, (Erwin, Tenn.)
Sharp’s Deli (Market Street in downtown JOCY)
Rodie’s Parkway Restaurant, (Glendale Springs, N.C.)
One Acre Cafe (Walnut Street, JOCY)
Kosher Pickle (Bristol Highway, below Winged Deer Park, JOCY)

Local Italian (more than just pizza) and/or Mid-East:
Portobello’s (at Kroger’s east of campus)
Crazy Tomato (Princeton Road, other side of I-26 from the mall)
Johnnie Brusco’s (across from the mall)

Boonies (aka Davis Dock, on Boone Lake, Bluff City, Tenn.)
Limestone Ruritan (Limestone, Tenn.)

Doughnuts / Bakery / Dedicated Breakfast:
Sunshine Doughnuts (in JOCY near campus)
Blackbird Bakery (up the street from Burger Bar in Bristol, Va.)
Hales Ruritan (Hales Community, Tenn.)
Limestone Ruritan (Limestone, Tenn.) (the only duplicate listed?)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

[letter to an anonymous person about life’s lessons] writing exercise

To Whom It May Concern
I write this as a way of perhaps expressing those few things I’ve learned in life and wish them to be passed on. A message in a bottle would be a bit of a romantic idea, I suppose, but maybe it really is just the ticket, too. Imagine the possibilities.

(The fine print.) I do indeed presume to suggest that what I have learned over the years are, in my opinion, of particular wisdom. You may follow all or a few or none of these. It’s your life. This is a compilation of a just a few hints, ideas, and bits of advice from an old man. (End of fine print.)

In no particular order or importance:
Read your Bible;
Avoid smoking;
Keep on the lookout for love in yourself and in others;
Eat curiously;
Travel whenever possible to anyplace;
Learn, be curious, be intellectual, be skeptical;
Do good things and think good thoughts;
Be positive;
Practice the Boy Scout Law;
Know your commandments;
Go to school;
Be smart;
Never stop dreaming to be better but be careful about wanting better;
Be forever cognizant of who you are;
Know thyself, say the Greeks, and avoid extremes.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

writing lessons: the greatness of sandwiches

I like a good sandwich which means I have to list the ingredients of a good sandwich but experience says that the personal touch is more important than the ingredients. Your mother would say the same thing.

Generally I like whole wheat store-bought bread. This is probably criminal in some minds but I am not a fan of the over-sized hoagy nor the artisan bread that has rocks in it. My fillings get tired of the latter and my jaw tired of the former. I generally like deli-cut meats: roast beef, most hams, BBQ but sauce on the side. I like a sprinkling of lettuce, cheese (almost any kind), horseradish mustard, sweet pickle, and onion but not the oils. For something like a Philly, a grilled sandwich, I go for extra mushrooms and onions, all kinds of peppers but forget all the rest of the stuff. Well, maybe a few tomato slices. All grilled together.

I am not too picky. Really, I’m not. I’ve had some really good sandwiches at roadside diners and some really lousy ones in the the so-called finer restaurants. It isn’t as much as a list of ingredients as it is freshness, a little bit of care, and human intervention. Corporate sandwiches generally do not cut it. I like to be able to add or subtract on a whim. I’m not bragging but I’ll give a lot of leeway and I have tried some sandwiches at places I might not have tried before. But, sometimes you just get so lucky!

The best sandwiches I think hold together, physically. I don’t like having chunks of bread on my plate and me holding the sandwich between the meat and the lettuce. I have begun here later in life to avoid mayo which raises the eyebrows of a few counter people but they get over it pretty quickly. Mayo has been replaced by the horseradish mustard. Much better tasting. A variety of tastes, if I recall rightly, is very good for your system.

Strangely, enough, I remember a grilled pimento cheese sandwich which should not be all that noticeable but it was at a little diner in Hadleyville, SC, while we were out birding. The sandwich was good, the little shop with 24 seats where we took 18 of them was even better. Maybe that was part of the enjoyment. Changed my thinking about pimento cheese. I don’t recall all the details but it was good!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Writing Assignment: A Favorite Moment in a Film

Nicolas Cage, in The Lord of War, plays an arms dealer who operates on the scale of armies instead of gangsters. The movie is a pretty good movie with lots of tight spots and quandaries for Cage’s character. In one scene he lands on board a plane on a dusty road in Africa and is captured immediately by the cops. The cops, hoping to break him, chain him to a box, and leave him for the rest of the day and the night sitting near the plane.

Before the cops return the next day, the natives strip the plane completely to the point there is no plane left, just Cage sitting on his box.

The scene is done in stop action and is quite impressive. It almost takes away from the story but makes for an interesting few minutes of movie watching.