Archive for August, 2011

Etude in Fiction

Posted: August 22, 2011 in Fiction

Here’s a little sample of what I’m working on.  It’s the beginnings of a story that will form part of a series of short stories I’m working on for a collection I hope to accomplish (someday).  I think I have the first section down that leads into the family’s first major year – 1984 – and may well keep the first paragraph of the new section.  But I wanted to share it.  Thoughts and comments would be appreciated.  I have to work out what comes next which should be a fun journey.

EAIII

It never rains here, said Mr. Liux adding to the polite banter around him, for as long as I’ve lived here rain has eluded this town.

He said it with authority, as if he’d been born and raised here and was well aware of Kingsville’s acute weather phenomena; the meteorological misnomers that plagued the city: the weatherman calls for rain and the grayest of clouds can be seen scurrying across the city sky like rabbits across the chaparral. Not a drop of rain. But in fact, he’d been here a brief ten years, leaving China in the early 80’s. He had married his childhood sweetheart, Keiko. She was not your typical Asian woman; the quiet and demure little Geisha of dreams and lore.  She was a tall factory of a girl, with fierce dark eyes and flowing tendrils of hair that fell onto her uncommon frame. When they met, it was the unconventionality she possessed that he fell for, and fell hard. They had always made plans growing up to move to the West and make their life together in America. They had been married for a brief time, only a year in fact, when the news of their first child crystallized those Westward passions. The year was 1980 and China was changing. It began in August with tearing down portraits and toppling the statues and it flourished into something more: an all out assault on the system Mao had created.

Xiaoping had promised a lot. But I was not going to stay to see if they came to fruition.

Mr. Liux looked deeply into his cup of coffee thinking about his parents. And sharing further:

My parents had gone through something like this, the promises. In the 60’s they were educators under Mao. Though they profoundly disagreed with his politics and reforms, they were loyal to their country. They towed the Party line and taught what was demanded of them (Like all freethinkers living under hostile regimes, they lived under the constant shambles of their principles, Keiko added). When he summoned “a thousand flowers bloom,” they naively believed him. Eager to participate in the changes, and “if it pleased the Chairman,” they offered to teach English. This act alone brought them under investigation. This act alone kept them under Mao’s Eye until they were found guilty of “sedition” against the State and were taken off into the labor camps. I rarely saw them after that. I was ten. I went to live with relatives. Lived with them until we received word that they succumbed to cholera and died.

He sighed. Again he looked deeply into his cup, swirling the coffee about, rather baffled as to why he had shared this with those around him. He always guarded the stories about his former life. But perhaps it was the celebratory environment, the friends around him, or maybe it was the prize he was receiving, that he was older now and that Keiko was with him that caused him to let down his guard.

He was the year’s recipient of the Chamber of Commerce Achievement Award for excellence in business. In the decade since he arrived, he was the owner and operator of four convenience stores around town. His arrival to America and to Kingsville proved fortuitous. The corporation, F.F.P. Partners, the conglomerate company that owned virtually every convenience store in town had filed for bankruptcy the year before. That year, they closed four of the ten stores they operated, followed by four more the year after (Keiko would surmise: It was a golden opportunity for the growing immigrant community in Kingsville who gobbled up the available stores; a veritable entrepreneurial Awakening, surpassing many of the locals). This was a glaring opportunity. Caused him to open his first store within a year of his arrival. Though he never considered the venture before this, he was desperately seeking a better life for his young family. He expanded into another store a year later, and then another; opening a store roughly every two years until he was the marvel of the business community. It was this achievement they celebrated at the annual awards ceremony, the first such award for an immigrant.

Mr. Liux, we’re ready for you,” called out Mrs. Bellows, head of the awards committee, announcing it was time for his speech.

Dear friends, esteemed colleagues, and members of the business community of Kingsville. Thank you for bestowing upon me this honor. For as much as it has pleased me to receive this award, I could not have so much as breathed the last ten years on my own were it not for the undying partnership and loyalty of my wife, Keiko, and my son, Xiaobo, who are here tonight. Their courage has been my courage, their faith my faith, and together we have over come many, many obstacles that have led us to this day. To the City of Kingsville, whose citizens welcomed us and made us feel at home and to the surprising friendships we have found: I raise my glass. Thank you!

It was not entirely disingenuous, the toast. There were many kernels of truth behind it. But there was that bit about being “welcomed” and being made to “feel at home”, that was a bit of rhetorical honey to fit the occasion. And although it would very well be true now, those “surprising friendships,” well, that had not always been the case.

1984

One has to imagine how hard it must have been for them. Leaving the only country they had ever known to come to a new one. So far away. It’s not like receding into a dream from reality, or for that matter, waking from a dream into reality. It’s more like a zombie’s existence. A psychic-social death sentence half way complete, where one is forevermore in the interstices. Never fully leaving home, but never finding oneself fully at home either. Anywhere. Forevermore in the interstices. But here they were.

WINNING BY LOSING: 4 STORIES ABOUT WRITING.

This blog has been an epiphany!  Not only for the writing, activism, and autodidactic nature, but in the attitude BCP projects.  He is truly an inspiration to me in my writing endeavors.  I have learned so much in the hour or so I’ve spent perusing the Black Coffee Poet blog.  This is a testament to dedication and perseverance to something loved.

Many thanks Jorge!

My Bookish Experience

Posted: August 17, 2011 in Humor, Literature

I love books. It’s ironic that throughout my entire twelve years of public school education, I would have never used “love” and “books” in the same sentence. Well no, that’s not entirely true. I could have easily said “I love to hate books.” My first book I read (and only because I had to) was Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. It was the first time I thought to myself: Well, that’s wasn’t all that bad. After high school and through my first few semesters of college, I read somewhat. Again, because I had to. And then, I found John Dominic Crossan and Walter Brueggemann. These two were the first authors I read because I wanted to, and really, because I could not help but to. They both write in the field of Christian history and biblical studies, my first intellectual love. They served as the spring board for anything and everything I’ve ever read afterward, whether in that field or not. And now, here I am. A person unabashedly in love with books and writing. All books, all writing. I have my favorites, of course (more recently Junot Diaz), but I’ll read anything. I’m a fan of prose above plot. If it is well written, I’ll probably like it. But to quote Kafka: books must be an axe for the frozen sea within us.

The last several years has been a journey in the life of letters. And although I have an amazing amount of catching up to do in terms of the classics, I have nothing but time to do so. And I love that. Recently, I began reading Ransom Rigg’s Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. And I want to relate a bookish experience.

I’m about half into the book. It’s a story about Jacob, a young man from a wealthy family who owns a chain of drugstores. Not particularly excited about his life or his almost inevitable life within the family business, he takes extra special pride in the relationship he has with his grandfather. He delights in the time he shares at his feet and the many stories his grandfather tells him. And the photos. A set of very eerie ones about “special” children he knew growing up on an Island in Wales. Jacob delights in these stories of seemingly magical children; some with levitating abilities, some with ghostly twins only visible in their reflection, etc.

As Jacob, or Yakov, as his grandfather calls him ( he’s Polish) grows older, he’s unsure if the tales his grandfather shares with him are entirely true. But who cares, it’s quality time with his grandpa, and in any case, the uncertainty is part of the charm and mystery. Then his grandfather dies in a horrific “accident” leaving Jacob a series of cryptic clues, the last whispers before he dies. So the book begins, with Jacob on a quest to find what these clues are all about (and these photos).

As I said, I’ve just finished Chapter Five. He’s come to Cairnholm Island in Wales, and as it turns out just before he “meets” the children, and he’s in the old orphanage or “Home” looking around the long abandoned place in search of clues. Nothing. Until he finds a chest under a bed. Not being able to open it, he devises a plan to drop the chest off the second floor, where he’s at, to break it open. Surely this would do the trick. Through much effort he succeeds in the plan, only to find that the chest has broken through the floor and is now in the basement, and quite naturally the darkest place in the house! So he musters the courage to go into the “ink black” darkness of the basement, feeling his way around much like a blind person would; hands stretched out before him.

He has an idea, when he remembers he has his cell phone on him, to use its dim light as a small flashlight (as we’ve all done many times, I’m sure). So he reaches into his back pocket, pulls it out and clicks it on. And as he points the cell/light in front of him, just able to see what’s ahead of him — MY cell phone rings/vibrates! I received a text at that very moment and it sent my heart pounding and I jumped with fear!!

I usually read on my bed, with my current-read books stacked next to me on a bookshelf. And my cell too right next to me as well. My ringer/vibrate was on full volume, which was the reason for my jump – it was loud and unexpected. And of course, the timing was, oh so fortuitous.

That was my bookish experience last night. Needless to say, I’ll be reading more books like Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children more often! Kudos Ransom Riggs!

Dreams That Haunt Us

Posted: August 8, 2011 in Fiction
Tags: , ,

Dreaming men are haunted men.” Therefore, every man is haunted. And little girls too.

It is the peculiar aspect of dreams that haunt us, the I-know-not-from-whence aspect to them that causes them to stay with us. Sexual dreams gratify, dreams of wealth and prosperity excite us, dreams of health and well being entice us. But those are not the dreams that stay with us. It is the dream of the room at the top of the stairs, the one with the shadow just off in the distance, the dream of the face unknown yet wholly familiar; these are the ones that resonate and find a home within. In short, the dreams that come and call to us. The one just beyond explanation.

Our second tale is about Renita Jai.  A little girl haunted not only in life, but in her dreams as well.

Dreams That Haunt Us: Monnstro

Little Renita Jai. She had been called “Little” since she was born because she had taken her name from her great grandmother, the great matriarch of the family. A woman so important, so revered, that her name had been hers alone, kept from at least two generations. Hers alone, that is, until Little Renita Jai. She was the stuff of miracles: born premature, given a grim prognosis by the doctors. Her parents were told that if she lived at all, it would be at a ghastly price. That she would never maintain a “normal life.” Her eyes were malformed, though she could see. Her tiny arms were mangled and deformed, the shape a stick of Laffy-Taffy might take if left in the South Texas sun too long. Laffy-Taffy was her mother’s favorite candy, banana flavored. Her legs were bowed at the knees, so much so that they might have been portals to another dimension, to another time.

Her skin was so dark and mysterious, with multiple shades of deep, dark bruise-purple, it made the dense night sky writhe in jealousy of her. Her eyes, when they were open to be seen a deep eerie white, as white as pure sin after the Lord’s grace had washed it clean. She was a scion of a proud African family that came to Kingsville very early, when dark folks were welcomed only for the labor they could provide. They had settled in what was called “Little Africa” on the corner of 2nd street and Huisache; her great grandmother among the first to settle the neighborhood on land donated to the “town folk” by the venerable King family.

Renita Jai was not expected to live passed a year. And that year was to be full of heartache and medicine, doctor’s visits and costly procedures until finally what ailed would prove victorious and take her fragile little life. Leaving the family with memories and questions of “Why?” And yet, here she was at age six. A precocious girl with dark curly hair, eyes a splendid moss green, and a smile as wide as Texas itself. She still suffered the pains of her misfortune, of course, because miracles never work out as we’d like them to. In life, Lazarus never really rises from the dead. Or Jairus’ daughter for that matter. But here was Renita Jai, alive despite all the wisdom of the learned medicine men. She had just began learning to talk, a symptom of her mother’s insatiable need to read her stories at night. All the classics too: Dr. Seuss, the Brother’s Grimm, Aesop. When she began to speak it was a little miracle in and of itself.  When she was able to put words together, enough to string sentences along toward a semblance of meaning, she told her mother about a recurring dream she had.

~Mommy, I dreamed of a place I’ve never been. I was wearing a pretty dress with my new shoes daddy bought me and my hair was up in a bow. A purple bow. It was a big parking lot but there was no cars. It was night and I was all alone. The lights were on but I could only see so far into the distance. And it was purple everywhere. Dark and purple, like when I look out the window when you read to me, and the train tracks go on forever and ever. I was scared because I could feel something was there in the dark where I could not see.  I called out, “monnstro…monnstro,” like I knew the name of the thing that was there in front of me.  Then a man came behind me. He was a good man and asked what I was doing all alone out in the parking lot.

In my dream all I could do was point out into the darkness. And the man asked, “what are you pointing at? Are you afraid of the dark? There’s nothing there sweetie, I promise.” And all I could do was point out there. I was very thirsty too. When I could talk, I told the man “monnstro.” But he could not understand me: “Monnstro, what’s that sweetie? What is that?” I looked at him but he still didn’t understand me. And so I pointed again into the dark place. Then he said, “do you mean Monster?” And he walked a little bit to see if he could see something. And he said, “there’s nothing out there sweetie. No monsters. Nothing.”

That’s when we heard it. A loud noise, mommy. A very loud noise like a lion and a pig and a person all screaming at once. And the man jumped toward me to try and cover me. All I could do was cover my ears and close my eyes real tight. And then I woke up.

Her mother was put off by the dream she heard.  And told her that dreams are mysterious things that happen to everyone.  That sometimes they are scary but sometimes they are really good too.  And throughout all your life, she told her, dreams will always happen to you.  There’s no need to be afraid of them.  It was then that Renita asked pointedly, then why do I have this one all the time? And not those other ones?

Renita Jai lives and resides in Kingsville to this day.  Her mother has passed and her father too.  She lives her life with some pain and sorrow, as we all do.  She’s made something of herself. She can walk, talk and work; do all those things “normal” people do everyday.  All that which the doctors said she would never do.  Those words she outgrew long ago.  She has had a thousand dreams since then, and a thousand nightmares too.  But  this one, this dream, of her fragile little voice echoing in the night, “monnstro,” haunts her still.

Titular

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Fiction
Tags: ,

     The people of Kingsville are cursed. I mean this in the best sense of the word, too. They are burdened by a thing outside themselves; a longing for something more, an abiding spirit for elsewhere. A small town can do that, you know. It’s in everything, in everyone. It drips from the pores like sweat on any given day. And to quote R.P. McMurphey, “it ain’t up to [us].” It’s beyond us. And yet we make do. How you ask? By developing culture and communal good times? No! We are a non cultured folk. For as much as we want something “to happen,” for as much as we want something “to do,” when it comes down to it and something does happen, the turn out is nil. Just ask any musician, or any artist or an event coordinator, the turn outs are nil.

We thrive in the individual spaces where by we drink and, often, drug ourselves into intimacy. Dawn-lit restaurants where folks drink their coffee and eat their food, night drenched houses where friends engage each other, the incessant car culture: that hallowed space in which we cruise our lives away. And most especially at work. These are the truest expressions of life in the Ville. The places where utopian moments of the face-to-face are created to endure the mundane life of our town. We are forced rather “to be” than “to do.”

Our first tale comes to us from roofers, those all important souls envied by none. A tortuous job in stifling heat, a job had by a lead “strongman” with experience and authority and the young-uns who take orders and try their best not to get thrown off the roof.

TITULAR

Lucas looked up suddenly, holding his gaze forward just above the horizon. He placed the shovel on the surface of the roof and said aloud:

I’m taking a break, yo, I’m feeling titular.”

–You have gained a lot of weight over the last few months, you should be feeling the weight of them bitch tits you got going on, Erasmo retorted annoyingly,

–this is the fifth time you stop working.

With all the petulance of a spoiled child he could muster, Erasmo mocked him derisively:

— “it’s hot,” “there’s sweat in my eyes,” “I’m losing my footing,” “My hands hurt,” “I’m thirsty.”

Real funny, retard. Why don’t you try reading a book, yeah. Titular: I just got inspired with a title, yo,  for a song. And I ain’t about to work through that shit – I’ll forget”

–Inspired by what kid, the blazing sun?! We gotta finish this shit before Clifton gets back. This section of the roof’s got to be ready by tomorrow! Be inspired after work, homie, he cautioned with all the concern of an older brother he could muster.

It ain’t even lunch time yet, dog, we got all day for this shit. Check this out, I got a title for a song: Quaalude Kerfuffle ”

–You’re on Quaaludes, man, what the fuck does that mean?”

It’s about an argument right, an altercation between two lovers while on Quaaludes but because they’re so bombed they can’t do anything but laugh about it, yeah – I got a beat for it an everything.”

–And that’s what you don’t want to forget?! You trippin’ man, let’s get back to work already!

— I ought to kerfinkle you off this damn roof, motherfucker.

Lucas, by now begrudgingly persuaded, picked up his shovel and began tearing into the roof again, stopping for momentary breaks to wipe the sweat from his brow and to shelter his eyes from the powerful sun. About five minutes passed when he asked with feigned curiosity:

“Is it almost lunch time? I’m hungry like a wolf”

–Dude, stop again and I swear to God you’re working through lunch! I ain’t got time for this shit!

Relax, dog, it’s just a question, damn. Why you gotta get all Rosanne Bar on me”

–One hour man, that’s all we need if you shut the hell up already and work. O-n-e. H-o-u-r!

Ayight man, cool. Where we going for lunch?”

–Bitch, we ain’t “going” anywhere, didn’t you bring your lunch?

Uhh, no!”

–Well, guess who ain’t eating then…

What?! That’s fucked up dog! But you know what, I’m cool with that. I’ll work through lunch- but my work, Not this wetback shit. I’m gonna write lyrics for my song, yeah.

–Do what you want, bro, Quaalude Garfunkle my ass.

Kerfuffle. Get it right: Ker-fuf-fle!”

And so Lucas began. Mentally mapping various rhyming schemes, hooks and catch phrases. Hi-hat patterns and snare blitzes.  He’d often break into melody and dance on the spot sending Erasmo into fits of laughter.

–Dude, you ain’t right, he’d say.

Time flies when you’re having fun so before he knew it, Erasmo informed him about lunch.

–hey Snoop Dog, it’s time to eat. And I got your lunch right here, he said, holding on to his crotch.

I always knew you went that way Assmo! I just knew it, dog.”

Finding a place under a tree they sat under the blistering sun to eat.

–Here, I happen to bring extras today. You’re lucky!

Shit, you alright man. I’m hungry as fuck”

–yeah, yeah – like a wolf, I know

But I’m still gonna work on my lyrics though, if you’re lucky I’ll include you!”

They laughed with each other as much as at each other and began to eat their lunch. Raising their tacos to each other they shared in a moment of rest:

Cheers, dog”

–Cheers, man!

What Heat Hath Wrought

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Current Events
Tags: ,

I’m not one to point out the obvious but it is hot outside!  All over Texas, and much of the U.S. as well, the temperature is rising higher than the national debt or the ubiquitous student loan.  And there seems to be no respite in sight.  All over our nation, a dozen or more have died from the heat, from the elderly to the homeless.  I was recently informed by a friend, given his Farmer’s Almanac proclivities, that the first cold front came to Kingsville on September 27 last year.  And so I have chosen to mark that date on my calender…in hot pink…like a precocious, indulgent teenager marking her first sexual experience with “the one!”   But moodiness and indulgence of another sort: stories.

One of the enduring aspects of actual education I received in a college history class was when we read ‘The Decameron’ by Giovanni Boccaccio.  If you’ve not read that book, or parts thereof, I suggest you drop by the local 1/2 Price and pick up a copy of the MOFO (you’ll thank me later).  I will ever be thankful to Dr. Ferguson over at TAMUK for the formal introduction to the book, it deeply changed some stuff for me; or at least provided a healthy rearranging of literary things.  It is with that book in mind that I embark on daily stories to combat the ill effects high temperatures can have on the body and the mind.  And to keep me busy as I spend all the time I can indoors!