I was watching a baseball game in bed last night
when my wife turned off her light and went to sleep. Respecting sleep the way I do, I turned off the volume and turned on closed captioning. Have you ever tried to read and watch a baseball game at the same time? It's rather difficult. I was actually so amazed at how fast the person could type without mistakes I forgot to watch the game. I wondered how long it would take me to get fired from that job and determined it would take about 30 seconds.
This got me thinking about other jobs I would be fired from during my first day, and I came up with a short list.
1. Police Officer - I would drive the patrol car like I was chasing Bo and Luke Duke. I would probably flip the car within the first hour. Fired.
2. Paperboy -Like I mentioned earlier, I respect sleep - love it actually. I wouldn't even show up for this job. Way too early. Canned.
3. Disc Jockey –For one, I wouldn’t follow the pre-set playlist. Two, my musical tastes are messed up. When people heard Willie Nelson followed by Eminem and Chopin, it would be over. I might make it a full hour on this job.
4. Scientist – My parents made the horrible decision of buying me a chemistry set for my 12th birthday. I immediately threw away the instructions and started mixing things together. I believe it took me about ten minutes to blow-up all the beakers. I wouldn’t have to be fired as a scientist as I would most probably blow the place up and be dead within 15 minutes. Boom.
5. Firefighter –First time the alarm went off in the middle of the night and somebody started telling me to get out of bed it would be over. Sorry, sleep wins. Depending on what time my shift started I might make it a day. Pink slip.
6. Mall Security Guard – As I have mentioned on this blog before I am terrified of teenagers. I would pistol whip the first one I saw. 30 seconds. Terminated.
I hope this author thing works out because I’m not really qualified to do much
else, and sleep really trumps all. I wonder if somebody might hire me for a
sleep study? If I leave the house for that I better not run into any teenagers.
Dear People who live on Mountain Road (you know who you are),
I know it's been kind of cold recently, and you've probably been pretty busy since Christmas. (Not working on your yard, though.) I get it, we're all busy, but for crying out loud it's the middle of March and you still haven't taken down your Christmas lights. I checked the TV listings and the NASCAR race should be over by 5 o'clock. Springer is a rerun. With daylight savings time starting today that gives you a good 3 hours to pull those lights down and get them stored away.
I really don't mind the cute candy canes. The blow-up Santa has been broken for at least two years so I suggest throwing it away. I’ll even give a little and say the snowman can stay until April or May (or whenever hunting season is over). But the manger scene really has to come down soon. One of the wise men has weeds growing in between his legs. The poor sheep and ox have been on their sides since that windstorm in February. A bird has started a nest in the manger next to the baby Jesus (who would be in a big-boy bed by now). And did you see that some litterbug threw a tall boy Budweiser and an empty bag of potato chips at Joseph's feet?
Please. I’m not a bah humbug, but Christmas is over. Decorate an Easter tree or something...
When a bloody painting is found hanging on a café
wall, Benny James is summoned by the local police department. Retired from the FBI, working as a private investigator, he remains a major player when it comes to peculiar murder scenes and cracking clues.
Tracking down the killer with Officer Vernon Kearns, the partners find bizarre art pieces which lead to discarded bodies. As the list of suspects grows, a couple of artists living in a broken down plantation house pique their interests. One of the artists has the odd habit of taking on the personalities of others. The other has a secret she is desperately trying to hide.
Vernon’s detective skills mature as he and Benny
rendezvous with another eccentric cast of characters, new and old. For the small town in Georgia this may be the most important case of Benny’s life as the town teeters on fear’s edge.
I have a magnet collection. Yep, I collect magnets. I’m that exciting. I used to ride motorcycles and have basically ridden all over the United States (maybe I am exciting after all). I wanted to collect something when I was on these trips and after buying a few salt shakers, shot glasses, and snow globes, I knew I had to switch and collect something flat and small as I didn’t have room for all those things on the motorcycle. Magnets were perfect—and fairly cheap!
In an effort to prove how popular magnets are to the non-believers out there, I will offer this tidbit - You can buy a magnet at the Vatican! Step right up and get yourself a Pope magnet. I bought two. My friends and I once saw a place in San Francisco called Magnet World, where all they sold were magnets. What? I bet you could be in the pits of hell and there would be magnets for sale. They would probably be those kinds of magnets that have a thermometer in them—I have a bunch of those from a trip out west where we traveled through Death Valley. They don’t work worth a crap, but they look cool.
Even cooler than my magnets is the way I display my mighty collection. I found an antique fridge door in college. Being the hoarder I am I picked it up and kept it. I had no idea why at the time, but us hoarders know that our finds and collections will one day prove us to be geniuses. And it did. I now keep my magnet collection on my antique fridge door. Problem is, it’s almost full.
I mentioned to my wife my next brilliant idea—an antique car door to hang on the wall to keep my collection going. We don’t seem to have the same vision.
Some people just don’t appreciate magnets the way I do.
I’ve been meaning to get something off my chest since I was about ten-years-old. So here goes…
When I was about eight, I saved enough money to buy my first record. My mom took me to a department store, and I proudly bought a copy of Million Mile Reflections by The Charlie Daniels Band. I wore that record out listening to it over and over again. The whole album was great, and of course it contained the famous song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
I don’t think I’ve heard The Devil Went Down to Georgia in years, but I can still sing the lyrics and hear the music for the entire song in my head. I would imagine most people know the basic storyline for the song, but just in case you don’t—the devil goes to Georgia looking for a soul—he has a fiddle duel with a boy named Johnny. If the devil wins he gets Johnny’s soul, and if Johnny wins he gets a fiddle made of gold. And of course, Johnny wins.
Confession time. I might get run out of the state after saying this, but I’ve always thought the devil played better than Johnny. There, I said it. I’ve been wanting to say that for 30 years. That felt good and I probably just saved myself thousands of dollars that I now won’t have to spend in therapy. I was about to burst. Listen to it again if you don't believe me. The devil tears it up! Johnny is pretty good too, but the devil wins hands down.
Now, I’ll just watch out my window for a mob with pitchforks and torches to chase me across state lines. Or a call from the governor demanding I leave before the sun dips behind the pines.
My wife told me it was time to collect some things we didn't need any more to give to Goodwill, namely a lot of my old books and clothes. She does have a point as I rarely read books more than once, and I usually wear the same five shirts and five pairs of pants in a fairly steady rotation. So, I made a game of it that made it a fun task.
As I went through my books I signed the author's name inside the front cover of each one. What joy the shoppers at the Goodwill would feel thinking they had found an autographed book! That's me, a spreader of joy. In the first one I wrote, “To Jason, One of my favorite people in the whole world - James Patterson." I signed his name using a wild cursive hand and tossed it in the box. Inside of the next I scribed, "You have been a constant source of inspiration. I can't thank you enough - Pat Conroy." For this signature I tried a block-style to my signature. I tossed it in the box. "Jason, The idea you gave me for this book was brilliant - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr." And I continued until I had a full box of books.
Moving on to my closet I pulled out all the button down shirts. I don't have time in the morning for all those buttons. I grabbed a note pad and scribbled a few notes that I folded neatly and stuck in the pockets. On the first one I drew a light bulb and wrote the word "IDEA." Under it I wrote, "Invent a blanket with sleeves." What joy the next owner of this shirt would feel thinking they were wearing a shirt from the inventor of the Snuggie. On the next one I wrote, "Don't forget to call Bill Clinton" and I made up a phone number. I wonder if they called it and asked to speak with the former President.
In the pockets of the pants I used notebook size paper. On one I drew a treasure map where my supposed life savings are hidden. I made it fairly simple, and if the new owner of my pants decides to follow the map, I should see someone digging a hole behind the Publix grocery store one day soon. Among the other notes I left in the pockets was one that said, "Please send help. I’m being held hostage in the Levi's factory in China as a slave laborer. Hurry."
Giving stuff to Goodwill is fun. I can't wait until my wife asks me to make another bag to donate.
As the year comes to a close, I can't help but wonder where I will be with my writing next year at this time. I feel like this is my last Benny James mystery for a while (I won't say it is my last forever, but I want to explore other areas). One thing I have promised and promised myself to finish is a book I started 5 or 6 years ago called The Painter. I have to finish this book. If it only sells one copy, I don't care. Something deep within me needs to finish this book. So, here is a sneak peek at what I am going to work on next. I may lose a lot of my audience as it is completely different from the Benny James mystery series - but I have to do it to be able to move on to whatever writing holds for me after this book.
I don’t lie for my own gains. I lie because I love Henry. No, we’re not gay; it’s a different kind of adoration that revolves around his work and my devotion. Henry is a painter. I’ve never been quite so sure what I am. I know one thing is true—I’m a liar.
People have said Athens, Georgia is God’s country. I’ve said it a few times myself. Athens has been a heaven for me. Athens has been a hell. I guess mostly the city has been my purgatory.
The University of Georgia campus lies adjacent to downtown Athens. I remember someone saying at one point during my college days the downtown area had approximately eighty-five bars within ten blocks or so. I have tried my best to be a loyal patron, practicing the art of overindulgence, at each and every one. One early morning, one a.m. or so, I sauntered into a bar called the Lunch Paper. The pierced bartenders slid back and forth behind the bar. They leaned across the cluttered bar top with their ears perked to receive shouted orders.
I looked around the bar for a familiar face. My pockets were empty. I didn’t see two of anybody I knew. I did see tip jars lined across the bar. In my mind the plan was infallible. The draft beer taps were on the other side of the bar. I caught the shorthaired blond girl and eyed her pierced lid, lip, and her combat boots. I had to get this perfect. She didn’t look like one to mess with. I placed my order. When she turned to retrieve, I acted as though I was contributing to the tip jar, and I came out with a fistful of dollars. I don’t know how she saw me, but she did. She came around the bar pissed. In my drunkenness, I perceived two of her. Siamese twin bitches. She grabbed the back of my shirt and dragged my thieving ass to the door. She told me that I could never come back again. I was banned for life.
That was cool with me. I had to take a piss anyway. I ran across Broad Street onto the UGA campus. I was drunk running. Flailing my arms and legs while my head watched my feet. I found a fountain. I let her loose. I was knee deep in the fountain and imagined I was in Paris. It was the early twentieth century and I was a soon to be famous painter. The eccentric painter takes a whiz in the fountain.
A cop’s laugh smashed my dream and brought me back to 1992. When I looked up and saw his smirk, I envisioned a jail cell and tried to decide whom I would call to get me out. He began to belly laugh and asked me if I had any idea how many people had peed in the fountain. Unable to formulate words, I shrugged my shoulders. He said there probably wasn’t any water in the fountain. I nodded and he walked off giggling. My legs began to itch. I ran back to my dorm.
I haven’t introduced myself. How rude. My name is Andy.
Let me sum up my background in six sentences or less. More will come out later. You can be sure of that.
1—My Mom and Dad loved me very much, treated me right, and still do.
2—I played ball. Baseball. I was almost good enough.
5—Grew up in Georgia. You probably guessed that, with the University of Georgia reference above. I’m going to have to keep an eye on you, smartass.
6—I’m a drinker.
Let me introduce you to a small cast of characters:
My favorite Jew, Aaron was in the hall keeping court when I arrived back at the dorm. He never stopped talking. He did invite me to all the Jewish fraternity parties though. I love free beer and young Jewish girls. Black curly hair makes me nuts. Aaron was always a great host at these parties. When I came in he would greet me like a guest of honor—he treated me like a prince. He would lead me directly to the drinks, knowing my interest in alcohol, and while I was satiating my demons, he would narrate the lady situation for me.
One of the curly, black haired Jewish beauties was named Shayna. I could have stared at her forever. Thanks to alcohol and her bad judgment, she slept with me twice. After that she tired of my neuroses. I still have a piece of her hair, which I keep in a book. It was on my pillow. I know, I kind of border on that weird, stalker-thing. I’m comfortable with that.
Aaron asked why my pants were all wet. I told him about my swimming adventure in the fountain on north campus. He admitted he had, on many occasions, peed in said fountain. On this particular evening, he was trying to get together a poker game. Nobody liked to play poker with him, because he always won. I could never decide if he was lucky, smart, or a cheat. He talked so much it was hard to believe he was concentrating on the game.
I chose him to be a part of my lie.
Aaron knew I was an art major. He never actually saw me create any art, because I couldn’t. If I had any sort of talent, it was hiding my ineptitude. I was your basic con man. Before I met Henry, I stole other peoples’ work and ideas. I would only steal bits and pieces from obscure works in case someone might recognize one of my thieveries. I invented methods of copying and reproducing which were quite magnificent. Henry ended all that. He basically gave me the keys to the kingdom. The art kingdom, that is. He didn’t want the fame. I did. Henry just wanted his work to be out in the world. But he was too scared. Thank God, he met me.
Let’s talk about Henry.
The way I met him was fairly usual. What followed our meeting was weird. I had been downtown for a few drinks. It was early evening. I only had a few bucks or I would have stayed the night. As I was walking back to my dorm, I saw a guy smoking outside a side door at the Visual Arts building. I needed a cigarette and decided to bum one from the guy.
I walked up and asked what I thought was a sure thing, “Can I cop one of those cigs, bud?”
“It’s may I?”
“May I?” I asked.
“No, you may not,” he answered.
I was just drunk enough to call him an asshole.
“Thank you for your honesty,” he said handing me a cigarette. “I am an asshole.”
“You have yellow paint under your right eye,” I said lighting up.
“It’s burnt umber.”
“May I call it yellow,” I teased.
“If you insist on being ignorant.”
Unsure if I should take his comments as an insult or not, I asked, “Can I see what you’re painting?”
“May I,” Henry said, flicking an ash at my feet.
“Right,” I said, remembering his propensity for language. “May I see what you’re painting?”
“Who’s your favorite painter?”
Henry later told me if I had said Picasso, he would have run inside and slammed and locked the door. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Picasso, it was just too easy of an answer.
Henry did not like to show emotion. Especially shock. He once said it was impossible to shock him. His mouth dropped.
“Come inside,” he said, looking me up and down.
The next half hour changed my life forever.
As I looked around the studio, I felt as if I was going to throw-up. Most of the art in there was terrible. It was an embarrassment to the name of art. I told Henry what I thought as soon as I saw it. I was repelled and he was pleased. I hoped none of it was his, but I was just drunk enough to have lost my ability to lie. When I had just about visually circled the room, my eyes found a train.
It was black and white and smudged all over. Accidental gray traipsed across the canvas. The smoke was a surprising red.
“This one I love,” I said, pointing to the train.
“Why?” Henry asked.
“Soul,” was all I could muster.
“Thanks,” Henry said. “Do you want to see some more of my stuff?”
“Yeah,” I said. Henry gave me another cigarette.
I followed him to his house without speaking. Every few blocks he would stop and we would light cigarettes and keep walking.
The house was antebellum. The exterior, that is.
The inside was…
My new beginning.
Blown up vision.
A shifting of the guard.
I had taken Art 200, Ceramics 310, and Education 420. Nothing prepared me for the education I found in this house.
Again, it was beautiful. Paintings were carefully slung on the walls. From the weeping wood floors grew ceramic and metal wonders. Somebody really weird lives here, I thought. I like him.
Henry sat down in what I supposed was his chair. He looked like a king—lighting up his smoke. He looked at everything and nothing. There was a piece of trash in his ashtray.
“This is not a fucking trash can! Wesley!”
Wesley slinked out of the back bedroom, bleary eyed and smelling like woman.
“Did you throw this receipt from the hardware store in my ashtray?” Henry demanded.
“Yep. It was trash,” Wesley said smiling, knowing what he was doing to Henry.
“It is not a fucking trash can,” Henry said, emphasizing every word.
“Is a cigarette butt not trash?” Wesley asked.
“Do we have to go through this again?” Henry barked.
Wesley laughed. He enjoyed the limited power.
“I’m sorry, I was drunk,” Wesley recited with familiarity.
“Excused,” Henry said as if he were the Grand Dragon of Speech.
Henry took the ashtray to the trashcan and dumped it, cursing under his breath. He set the ashtray in its proper place and sat down hard in his chair and said, “Let’s smoke a proper cigarette.”
I said, “OK.” I was a little frightened of him at the moment. I thought of him as a czar. Little did I know at the time—he would be the czar of art in my life.
We lit our smokes, and Henry reached over his shoulder without looking and turned off the lights. Our two cigarette cherries blinked off and on.
An eerie silence passed and for some reason I knew it would not be alright to interrupt. Henry was thinking.
Finally, Henry spoke.
“I’ve seen you in the art building before. Seen some of your work. You’re a fake.”
“Don’t,” Henry said. “You can lie to everybody else, but don’t lie to me.”
“You’re a good imposter.”
“Thanks,” I said, needing to ash my cigarette.
“We aren’t going to mention the subject until I choose to bring it up again,” Henry said. “Are we clear?”
Henry switched the light back on and pushed the ashtray toward me.
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Henry.”
“Why haven’t I seen you in the art building before?” I asked.
“I’m not a student at the University. Sometimes I like to use the studio when nobody else is around. The lighting is nice.”
“What do you do if someone comes in?”
“People sometimes do. If you act like you’re supposed to be somewhere, people think you’re supposed to be there.”
Henry went quiet and I took this as my cue to leave. I thanked him for the cigarettes and showing me his art. He acted as if I had said nothing at all. As I walked toward the door I noticed him studying a spot on the ceiling.
“Later,” I said to no response.
With one foot out the door, he called to me. “Andy.”
“Yes,” I said, peeping my head back in the door.
“What is your assignment this week in Art 201?”
“How do you know I am taking…”
“Never mind that. What’s the assignment?”
“Come back tomorrow at six.”
I shut the door quietly and walked back to the dorm wondering where I should even start wondering.
OK. This picture has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but when I did a Google image search for the word "like" I found it and had to use it.
Anyway. Did you know I now have a Facebook Author Page? I do!
Click HERE for the LINK. Or click the picture of the kid munching the melon and it will take you there as well. I would be grateful if you would like it and spread the word.
And... I think I will actually post more there than here. So, check it out.
Pushed now has two covers! One for the e-book and one for the paperback. How cool is that?!
I know the blogging has been slow recently. The holidays are a busy time around my house - it's like living in a Christmas museum I always say. My wife loves, loves, loves Christmas, and a large portion of our basement is dedicated to housing all of her Christmas boxes. We have nine or ten Rubbermaids the size of coffins plus a bunch of other stuff.
I'll try to get back to blogging more. I've been trying to work on another Benny James novel whenever I sit down to write. I was hoping I would be able to publish another one by the end of January, but it is beginning to look more like March. I wish I had more time to write.