Midtown Funk

The Round Corner

C. N. Martin

If I’d been given the choice between a punch in the face or a kick to the mid-section, I’d have gone with the punch. Ten years and fifty pounds ago my choice would’ve been different. That was before the beer belly, before I’d gone soft in the middle. I could’ve taken a kick back then. I’d have been more concerned with losing a tooth out of my pretty face than a cracked rib. A moot point I suppose, as the choice wasn’t mine. I was gifted both. It was a fitting final jab at a life lived poorly.

Bill was about my height, thicker around the middle and strong. He pulled me off the ground and walked me over to the side door and set me against the wall. “Joe, you okay, man? What happened?”

“A meth-head asked me for a smoke, I told him I didn’t have any.”

“He didn’t believe you?”

“Apparently not,” I said.

“You need a doctor or anything? You want me to call someone?”

“No. No thanks. I’m good.” I pulled a Marlboro from the near-empty pack in my front pocket.

My tongue pressed against the loosened molar and wiggled it, coating my taste buds in metallic booze-thinned brine. A cough rushed up my chest and I spat the blood into the rusted can of Folgers on the ground. The ache and stabs of pain crackled through my body like the cellophane around the misshapen pack of cancer sticks. It would have been much worse if I’d been sober.

I lit the cigarette. At first I thought it was the soreness in my ribs that kept me from getting a good draw, but I was wrong. I hadn’t noticed the tear in the paper where the tobacco met the filter. Fuck it. I tore off the end, took a few puffs and threw the remainder in the coffee can.

“All right, well I have to get back in. I got thirsty people in there. Let me know if you change your mind.” Bill put his cigarette out on the bottom of his shoe as usual, and flicked the butt toward the bike rack where a little patch of dirt had become an unofficial ashtray.

“Yeah, I’m heading back in, too,” I said. “I’ll finish my beer and get out of your hair.”

“Stay as long as you like, brother.”

The Corner was far enough away from the bustle of J Street that tourists from suburbia made only a rare appearance. They only came to midtown for the trendy brew pubs and coffee shops. This was a locals-only kind of place, my home away from home. Three blocks up, and three over and I was there.

I shuffled in behind Bill, walked past the pool table, and into the bathroom. I hated that bathroom. The kitchen was the next room over and the heat poured through the paper-thin wall like a furnace. It was stifling even on a cold night, and the busted fan ensured that it always smelled like day-old piss. Its white walls and bright light were a stark contrast to the rest of the bar’s mood lighting and black paint. It was clinical without the cleanliness.

After a couple of less than gentle taps from my fist, the dispenser coughed out a small mound of granulated soap. I pressed the chalky substance into my skin and washed the dirt from my hands and face. Shattered pieces of mirror clung to yellowed glue and cracked paint on the wall over the sink. I took an extra moment to examine my unexpected dental work in my reflection before I walked back to my customary seat at the end of the long mahogany bar.

Tracy was right where I’d left her. “Bill told me what happened. Are you okay?” She ran her fingers through my hair and gave my scalp a quick scratch. “You need a haircut.”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just got sucker punched, and yes, I know I need a haircut.” I pointed to a heavy shot glass that sat next to the beer I’d left before I went outside. It was filled with a beautiful, amber colored liquid. “What’s this?”

“It’s Buffalo Trace, from Bill. He poured it for you when you were in the bathroom. I don’t know how you can drink that stuff.”

Tracy knew a lot about a lot of things. She had a sharp wit and a sharper tongue. She was a slave to just about every form of music, and she often spoke in movie quotes. Her curves fit her frame in just the right way and her style made her seem like a classic pinup girl from an old black and white poster made real. I’d never cheated on my woman. It was a principle thing and I suppose in a way I even loved her. But I’d thought about it, and I’d often thought about it with Tracy. Tracy was sex. She was all those things and more, but she was strictly a beer drinker and she didn’t know shit about bourbon.

Truthfully I didn’t know much about it either, other than the fact that I liked it. That may not have been the best bourbon in the world, but it was damn sure better than the Canadian Mist that sat in the well.

I raised the glass high as my ribs would allow. “Thanks, Bill.” The shot worked its way with the tender, caring burn of a well-remembered friend.

“No problem,” he said. “You earned it.” He smiled and went about his business. Bill was studious in his work. Even on a slow Tuesday night he buzzed around the bar, wiped down the counter and polished glass after glass. He even made the occasional drink or two for the regulars.

If it was busy I’d play the good patron and collect empty glasses from the tables and bring them up to the bar to help him out. It wasn’t busy. There was an odd quiet in the air, broken only by the infrequent cracking sound that came from the pool table in the back where Mike was practicing.

“Give me a dollar for the juke box.” Tracy opened her palm to me. “It’s time to learn you some more music.”

It’d come as quite the surprise to her that I didn’t own any music, or a stereo, and that the radio in my car was tuned to either sports talk, or NPR.

It came as an even bigger shock when she’d found out I actually played a little guitar. The calluses that once graced my fingertips were long gone, and I wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. But I used to make a habit of teaching myself new things. Guitar had been one of them.

She’d accused me of being a music hater, and while that wasn’t true, I clearly didn’t love it either. So she made it a point to school me on various bands and singers. I was especially bad about linking a band’s name to the title of whatever song was playing.

There were five singles in my pocket, my net worth. It was all hers. I put the wrinkled wad of cash in her hand and she practically bounced the five-something feet to the jukebox.

She hummed and bobbed her head side to side as she picked out a handful of songs. Her fingers flew across the touch screen faster than I could read the menu options, or what she’d keyed in. She caught me trying to peek, frowned and rolled her shoulder up to block the view. I turned my attention back to the beer in front of me.

The vibrating sound of hard plastic against key and coin caught my attention and I pulled the phone from my pocket. I could never remember the zigzag pattern on the nine button lock, so I’d gone with a number password instead. Zero-seven-one-three. The German had sent me a pointed message. The text read: Tomorrow. 8pm. Your place.

When I’d first met the man I was more than a little surprised at his brown skin, and the tattoo of the holy mother on his forearm. The matte black Dickies that hung loose around his waist and the plain white T-shirt he wore didn’t exactly scream of central Europe either. An acquaintance had told me he was given the alias because of his middle name, Klaus. Supposedly his grandfather was on the wrong side during World War II and eventually fled to South America.

Twice I’d gotten extensions on the money I owed him, and all the while the juice had been running. And with those extensions came inflation. Two thousand became five. Five became ten. I’ve seen you at the poker table, he said. This shouldn’t be a problem for you. After my first couple missed payments I started to wonder if his nickname came from his sadistic predilection for dishing out pain. Twice he’d used a rubber mallet in an effort to collect; once on my left hand, once on my right knee. He reminded me that I didn’t really need those to bet, or fold. Perhaps his Nazi heritage wasn’t so dubious after all.

I stuffed my phone away as Tracy meandered her way back. She raised her hands to the air, fingers and thumbs pressed together like the conductor of some grand orchestra.

The music rolled in like a storm for the next two minutes. Thunder clapped over the speakers first. It was followed by the sound of leather boots making a slow march down a long gravel road. It was the sound of the old west. A solo guitar sprang up a sad, one-string-at-a-time ballad. Then there were drums, more thunder, and then humming in tune with a violin.

Tracy was anxious; she wanted me to guess what song it was. She tried to coax the answer from me with a stare, shrugged shoulders and a waiting smile.
I already knew the title. Of the few songs I did know, this was my second or third favorite. It might have been my first, either way it was up there. I waited until the last possible moment, and blurted out the answer before the lyrics came on.

“Short Change Hero, by The Heavy.”

“Yeah,” she yelled. “Get this man another beer.” Her hand whipped into the air to signal Bill we were ready for another round.

“Guess you’re not leaving after all,” Bill said with a smile. His laugh had a short, choppy cadence, and it carried less bass than one would expect from a man with a neck as thick as his. It was a good laugh. He set the beer onto the bar in front of us and let the coasters soak up the foam that overflowed from the pint glasses. “That’ll be five dollars. Whose tab?”

Tracy made a motion with her hand as if she were swatting away the question. “I got this one.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Well you’ve had a rough day. I’ll tell you what; if you can guess the next two songs I’ll buy the next beer as well.”

With my head cocked sideways I shot her a skeptical, bleary-eyed glance. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to guess the next two. “And if I get them wrong?”

“Then nothing,” she said. “It’s just a reward if you get the right answers.”

We sat and drank and laughed at little things for the next few minutes. We listened to the rest of the song, and for a moment everything that was wrong didn’t seem to matter. In the end though, she couldn’t see where I was coming from, and the Corner was no place for heroes.

I managed to guess the next song as well. I’d seen a special on ESPN about Seattle fans chanting an elongated “Wilson” whenever their quarterback took the field. The opening bass lines of a song that shared his name brought the same response they received at a Phish concert. I told Tracy about it. She called it cheating.

“Of course you only remember it because of football.”

“Whatever works,” I said.

If I’d won that battle, I lost the next. I’d guessed the song correctly; it was “Where Is My Mind” by the Pixies. Only I didn’t say it was by the Pixies, I’d said it was by the Pete Box. I was wrong of course.

It was close enough for Tracy that she honored her bet, and Bill brought me one last pint. I took it down in three deep gulps.

The clock on the wall showed 1:30am. Late for a work night, not that I was actually going in the next day. All the same, it was about time for me to get down to business.

Tracy gave me a kiss on the cheek, I shook Bill’s hand goodbye, and waved at Mike from across the bar. The corner of the building was rounded, and made of thick glass bricks with a door that pointed a person to the intersection as they walked out. I’d always walked out that door when I left and I let the door lock behind me for one last time.

I pulled a smoke from my pocket, and made sure it was intact before I fired it up. The draw was smooth and satisfying. The burn in the back of my throat was different from the bourbon, but it was just as familiar. The flickering neon sign above me set the shadows of the surrounding trees dancing on the blacktop. It was a silent dance, save the light whip of the pan flute wind against the leaves, and the beating drum in my chest. I stood there for a time and watched, mesmerized by the rhythm, and pondered my fate.

I’d had the ten thousand just the night before. Twelve hours I’d spent grinding the table at the Poverty Ridge Poker Room, and I’d been killing it. The nervous, sweaty stench of a bluff stood out more than the obvious strength of a high pocket pair before the flop. I’d tripled my money. Then the whale sat down with a fat rack of chips and just enough skill to lose it.

Of course I had aces. Every bad beat story starts with aces. I bet big, he called. The ace of hearts hit the flop with an eight of clubs, and a two of spades. I pushed hard and bet a thousand at a pot of eight hundred. I had the money I needed. I just wanted to end the hand and go home with a little extra. He should’ve gone away, but instead he did the wrong thing and pushed all his chips toward the middle of the table. Maybe he had an ace with a high kicker like a king or a queen. Maybe he called the raise with the dead man’s hand, ace-eight, and made two pair. Either way I was good. I called the all-in because that’s what you’re supposed to do. He turned over his cards and showed me his pocket twos; my best possible three of a kind, against his worst possible three of a kind. Of course he hit a two on the river. Every bad beat story ends on the river.

My mind was already set on doing the right thing, that’s why I’d taken the day off. I’d wanted to see as much of my family, and as many of my friends as I could. I owed, and one way or another I was going to pay. I’d thought about running, but I’d given Tracy my last five dollars and the half-tank of gas in the Honda wouldn’t get me very far. The German would have found me anyway, or hurt people I cared about if he couldn’t.

I really had only two choices. I could’ve waited for him to show up with his crew, but that would’ve ended badly. It would’ve been messy. He would’ve made an example of me, and he would’ve done it slowly. I didn’t want my folks or my sister to see what was left after something like that. The alternative was to do it myself, but I didn’t want people to think I was sad or desperate. I didn’t want any clean-up. That limited my options.

No. The best kind of death I could hope for was an embarrassing one. David Carradine came to mind, the guy that played Caine, from Kung Fu. I thought about tying a belt around my neck with my pants around my ankles. It would’ve been pathetic, but it wouldn’t have been painful. It would’ve looked like an accident of sexual deviance instead of an act of desperation. It might’ve even made people laugh, and that brought me a strange sort of comfort.

My train of thought broke when the neon sign shut off, and the last puff on my cigarette brought the taste and smell of a burnt filter. I spat, flicked the butt toward the bike rack and walked kitty-corner through the intersection. A bright silver Mercedes idled near the stop sign where I stepped back onto the sidewalk. The front passenger rolled down the window, and two large men stepped from the back seats as I approached.

“Hey, Joe,” the German said. “Let’s go for a ride.”



The click-clack of the dog’s too long toe nails creeping up behind me announced his presence. He smelled the bacon. It was a dark, gristled at the edges brownish red with long white stripes of flavor running end to end.

When I’d whipped the pancake batter I added a little extra water so when fried they came out thin and crispy on the outside with just enough fluff in the middle.

I layered them onto the plate with butter and brown sugar. The sweet cakes and thick cut bacon pranced upon my tongue and set my feet to dancing as I sat and ate.

It was a very good breakfast. The dog licked the plate.

The Bruise


One night many years ago my sister knocked on my bedroom door before letting herself in. She was holding a white rectangular laundry basket with an old, blue, frayed-at-the-edges towel neatly folded at the bottom. On that towel was a puppy; the progeny of my mother’s miniature pinscher. But the puppy wasn’t pure bred. The neighbor’s dachshund crawled under the fence some months before and got himself in a family way. So he ended up with a long body and long legs. And where his mother was mostly black with dark brown spots he was bright gold with a single white clockwise swirl on his chest.

“Can you please just take him for the night?” she asked. “He’s whining and I’m trying to study.”

“Fine,” I said. “Just set it there.” I pointed to a spot on the floor next to my bed.

She did, and I shut off the lamp and went back to sleep.

Some hours later I woke to the sound of whimpering and desperation. I flipped on the lamp and there was the pup, no bigger than the palm of my hand, dangling from the edge of the mattress. The little shit had climbed and clawed his way out of the laundry basket and up the side of my bed only to cling for dear life and whelp for attention. I couldn’t help but admire such tenacity. So I scooped him up, turned out the lights and went to sleep.

By the next morning the pup had made an executive decision. I was his human. I belonged to him now. Anywhere I went in the house he was right at my heel or in my lap. And when I had to leave he’d howl bloody murder. At least that’s what I’ve been told. So naturally when I moved out he insisted that I take him with me.

I lived in a townhouse. My bedroom was upstairs right over the front door. We used to play this game where I’d have him sit by the entrance and then I’d walk out of sight from the window and you could hear him tear ass up the stairs and into my room so he could find me. And then I’d point to the front and he’d haul ass back down again. I would do this repeatedly. It was a good way to get him worn out while I only had to walk about five feet back and forth a dozen times or so.

One summer Saturday I was walking around downtown, the dog at my heel, and a voice from behind me said, “Oh my god he is so cute.” There was an exaggerated emphasis on the “so,” and it came out in this kind of high pitched sound that’s a hallmark of the twenty-something California female. “What’s his name?”

I turned around to find this cute, curly haired brunette with deep dimples whose name escapes me at the moment and isn’t really relevant to the story. “Shithead,” I said.


“That’s his name. Shithead.”

“No!” Again with the elongated “O” sound. “You’re not a shit-head,” she said as she bent down to pet the little celebrity. He knew when the eyes were on him.

“Nah, he’s pretty awesome actually.”

“So what’s his name, really?”

“Bruiser. But he answers to shit-head, or butt-face or just dog.”

“Oh my god you’re terrible. But he is just so cute. Does he do any tricks?”

“He’ll give you a kiss on command.”

She blushed and did that little thing with her hand that girls do when they play coy, and smile and brush their hair over one ear with their index finger. “Oh really?”

“Really. Just ask him.”

She did, and he did. And after I informed her that he learned the trick from me, the next day I did also. And as much as he liked to play up the ladies when out and about he was never too happy about me bringing them home. He’d do this thing where he’d march from my side of the bed around to the other and back again, his ears pricked up and he’d voicie his protest in a very quiet woof. As if to say “Oh hell no.”

We went everywhere together, unless we absolutely couldn’t. The office, and most restaurants were off limits. But the grocery store? Yup. What do you mean I can’t bring a dog in here? He’s a service animal, sir. No, it doesn’t matter that he’s not wearing a vest, he doesn’t have to. No, you can’t ask me what my disability is. That’s illegal. How dare you. *Smirk*

On more than one occasion I’d wear a big puffy jacket two sizes too big so I could sneak him into the movies with me. A kid caught me once when he turned around from the seat in front of me and saw me feeding The Bruise popcorn through the zipper in my hoodie. I politely reminded him that snitches did indeed get stitches, and handed him a pack of peanut M&M’s for his consideration. Carrot and stick, ya know?

I came home from work a week ago, and he was there at the door to greet me as usual. We took a nice little walk around the block. A little bit slower than we used to though. He looked up at me with his cloudy little eyes and started to tug on the leash. That was his way of telling me to step on it. But I’ve gotten fatter as well as older, and my knee bothers me every now and then, so we meandered.

When we got home, I gave him some fresh water that he lapped up vigorously, and some food that he was only semi interested in. I chowed down on leftover beef stew with white rice. After dinner I laid down in bed and put on the television as usual. The dog hopped up and gave me several sweet doggy kisses and one of those head bumps that dogs do that’s as though they’re trying to push their way into you. You know the kind. Then he curled up into his customary little spoon position. We were about ten minutes into the show when he had the seizure. His back arched, his front paws stuck straight out in front of him. And just like that, he was gone. I tried to wake him. I wept.

My apartment is quieter and colder than it once was, and never before did I think that an empty space could be so heavy.

Goodbye, Bruiser. I love you and miss you very much. You’re the best dog I never asked for.

33rd With an *


At SixFold, the all writer voted literary journal.


Upon further review, it appears that there was one, very uncharacteristic vote that held my story back. The vote in question (LAST PLACE!) and commentary was so far removed from the 1st and 2nd place votes and commentary I received from the other voters. Here it is:

“This document contains several curse words or vulgar language. The quality and quantity of trite or inappropriate words, phrases, misspellings and clichés are found in this paper. The use of a ‘readability index’ to gauge whether or not your text is appropriate for a certain audience may be helpful. Most of your sentences state with a pronoun. Variety is helpful in eliminating monotony. Keep on writing as with practice you can do it.”

The thing is, my story contained very little profanity, zero misspellings and it had been run through a “readability index” with the following scores:
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 4.3
Gunning-Fog Score 6.6
Coleman-Liau Index 7.6
SMOG Index 7.4
Automated Readability Index 3.4
Average Grade Level 5.9

A score of 8 or lower is what is recommended for the general public.

It’s almost as if this voter was reading a different story while voting and commenting on mine by accident.

In contrast, here are some of the more flattering comments left by other writers:

“Midtown Funk 1. There’s a lot of despair throughout the text. I liked that Joe just rolls with the punches (literally) despite his gambling problem and the terrible things that happen to him. He carries this sense of responsibility for his own mistakes that’s admirable, even if it is just because of despair and resignation. His strength is particularly strong when he thinks about how he will die humorously. 2. The details about the settings are great – the bar in particular feels so alive and almost like it’s a character.

“Midtown Funk: A witty Charles Bukowski-style story about a man at the end of his rope. Strengths are: that the story starts in the middle of the action

“Good descriptions/imagery. Love the details of the bar bathroom – so stark and depressing, just as a bar bathroom usually is. Also love the description of the music on the jukebox. More of a vignette than a whole story altogether, though, I thought this was a well-written piece.”

“I was entertained by the ‘film noir’ qualities of the piece. The character is engaging if not particularly likable. The dialogue is authentic and the mood is sustained effectively throughout.”

“Vivid imagery, original non-cliched descriptions, and an engaging opening. The writing style and explicit imagery gives me a Chuck Palahunik vibe.

New Project Prologue



Inspiration came to me today. A fantasy novel from the perspective of three people who, if they lived in the real world, would be real candidates for “still living in mom’s basement”. Thoughts?


The sun lingered on the horizon, sending the last rays of the day through the kitchen window of the Cask and Cod. Soon the tavern would shed its silence and embrace the bustle and laughter befitting a rowdy tavern during a late supper rush. Before the great cast iron cooking pot of long simmering stew stood a man, a woman and a moron. In truth all three were fools, but they were fools of three different types.

The first of these belonged to Q’urt and the way, mid conversation, he’d simply stop listening while nodding in automatic agreement. It was in the way he could dazzle you with obscure facts on a wide swathe of subjects while remaining oblivious to the obvious. And it was in his frequent stares into the middle distance examining – nothing.

The second stupidity belonged to Baub and her penchant for conjuring terrible ideas. It was in the way she chewed her food slack jawed, and the moist smacking sound her mouth made as she shoveled food into her face. And it was in her laugh, like a braying ass, loud and ornery. You could count for her all the ways her schemes were doomed, and when confronted with the facts she’d simply say fuck it.

The last of these belonged to Fhil, the greatest thick-wit of the three. It was in the way he’d keep talking long past Q’urt’s listening and how he thought every fickle notion of Baub’s was brilliant. It was in the way he’d subordinate himself to them and their constant needling and ridicule. You could listen for an hour and you might catch the knock of shallow thoughts bouncing around inside his skull, one at a time.

Combined, their jackassery stunned the owner of the Cask and Cod into a horrified, pre-rage silence as they seasoned the stew with their spit and snot and in Fhil’s case, piss.

The Lesser (more attractive?) of Two Weevils?


A candidate for President of the United States went on stage last night and defended his practice of not paying people for the work they’ve done because A) It’s good business and B) Because maybe he wasn’t’ satisfied. He also stated that “not paying taxes” was good business. That’s pretty weevil. On the flip side, it’s a legitimate out if you go to Vegas. Stay at Trump Towers then refuse to pay. It’s just business.

Across the stage from this spray tanned symbol of epic douchebaggery, it turns out, wasn’t a weevil at all but a woman. We know it’s a woman because Fox News’ own Brit Hume noted that she was “composed, smug sometimes, not necessarily attractive.” Because attractiveness is a very important quality in a candidate for POTUS, but only if you’re a woman.

That doesn’t really seem fair.

If we have to hear whether or not Hillary pumps up Brit Hume’s chubby, shouldn’t we also hear where The Donald’s tiny fingers rate on Ann Coulter’s Moist-O-Meter?

Pretty sure I’m not going to sway anybody one way or another. Either you’re voting for Hillary, or you’re a troglodyte. Keep in mind that if you’re voting for Trump you’re statistically far likelier to have to look up the definition of “troglodyte”. Because Trump supporters are dumb.

Writing Means Reading

Just a quick thought while I have the time and access to a computer while I’m on break. I just took a moment to make a list of the books I’ve read so far this year. I’m at twenty eight. That’s a book roughly every nine and a half days. Not bad, but could be better. But i also need time to write and eat and pet my dog and shit. Good thing I don’t have kids to neglect, because they’d get neglected.

Some of the books on this list are re-reads, because good books are worth a revisit, and great books are worth more than one. I put them in order by series and awesomeness. The top three series are clearly a cut above, but the rest of them are all kind of tied for fourth place so far. I’m currently trying to slog through The Centaur by John Updike, but it’s just not catching me by the short and curlies as of yet.

The Kingkiller Chronicle – Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind

The Wise Man’s Fear

The Gentleman Bastards – Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora

Red Seas Under Red Skies

The Republic of Thieves

The Magicians Trilogy – Lev Grossman

The Magicians

The Magician King

The Magician’s Land

The Farseer Saga – Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Apprentice

Royal Assassin

Assassin’s Quest

Fool’s Errand

Golden Fool

Fool’s Fate

Fool’s Assassin

Fool’s Quest

The Calamity Trilogy – Brandon Sanderson




The Stormlight Archive – Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings

Words of Radiance

Good Omens – Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

The Expanse Series – James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes

Caliban’s War

Abaddon’s Gate

Cibola Burn

Nemesis Games





The Withdrawal is Real

Dear Interwebz and the people on it,

My computer needs a new motherboard and being that the machine is around seven years old, and the operating system was already out of date, it’s probably simply time for a new machine. It will be a while before I get one however, so I am now reduced to mere lunchtime blogging when I have time. And the novel is yet again delayed.

But I shouldn’t go this long without posting something, so here you go. Feel free to leave your sass and profundity in the comments section. Hopefully I’ll come up with something clever to say in the near future.

A Circuitous Path to Wordsmithery

K Car

Somewhere in my parent’s house there’s a photo album. Most likely there are several. But this one in particular is one of those fancy padded types with a soft cloth cover; white with a floral pattern, pink frilly trim and one of those plastic windows in the front that seems to have lost its transparency over time. In that album there’s a photo printed from honest to goodness thirty-five millimeter Kodak film, and faded to a pre-Instagram, natural sepia. That photo is of a little boy. His lips are pursed in a tight begrudging smile signaling to all that he’d rather not have the camera pointed in his direction. He’s holding one sad red balloon by its string in the muggy warmth of a Washington summer.

While certainly no angel, that little boy in the hideous brown and yellow striped shirt represented a clean slate of human potential. The act of simply meandering through life had not yet tainted him. Thirty years later that boy was a pre-middle aged man, eight years into an entry level job in a California State IT shop, wondering how he was going to afford his looming and inevitable mid-life crisis. He thought he’d do some writing, maybe a short story or two, maybe a novel. A decade late to the blog party he started putting digital ink to virtual paper, which is where you’re likely reading this, if anyone out there in the ether actually reads this shit.

You could ask a hundred writers when they knew they wanted to write, and I’d guess that most of them would say that they loved reading and writing since they were wee little tykes learning their ABCs. Perhaps they’d tell you about a book they fell in love with in junior high, or high school, and they knew then. The only books I read during my teens were of the comic variety, in the 90’s, when every female character had perfectly drawn, and clearly fake tits.  Oh, and they wore thongs into battle. Because what self-respecting female hero doesn’t wear a thong when fighting ninjas, ya know?

Around the same time I had my nose pressed into Jean Grey’s 2-D cleavage, I discovered anime and holy shit. Dragon Ball Z, Ninja Scroll, Akira, and tentacle porn; if you’re a guy who grew up in the 90’s there is a very good chance that you’ve seen all four of those, and you probably watched them while smoking shitty brown weed and drinking Mad Dog 20/20. And you probably did that while ignoring your sister’s complaints about the girl that you’re kinda seeing that you met at the Mr. Video. Or maybe that last part is just me. Oh, and Mario Kart. I’ll fuck you up at Mario Kart.


What does that have to do with writing? Not a damn thing. It barely has anything to do with reading but for the fact that I’m conveying this story with the alphabet. But that’s kinda the point.

The first time I had any idea that I might be decent at it was in May of 1998, about a month before graduation. My English teacher asked us to write some nonsense about what our time at school meant and yada yada. I was feeling sappy and nostalgic at the time so I apparently took it serious.

I wrote about that little boy with the balloon changing schools after the third grade because his parents bought a house in a nicer neighborhood. I read to them in front of the class about how that same kid moved from Washington State to Arizona just a year later for the fifth grade, and spent the sixth grade at Pasadena Elementary in Sacramento. Sacagawea middle school in Spokane was fun for a year. The six foot snow drifts were pretty, but my shoes didn’t do a great job of keeping my feet dry.  Eighth grade and part of my freshman year of high school we were back in Seattle, before coming back to Sacramento. I talked to them about the drives from one state to another where I’d sleep on the floor of the car, contorted over the hump behind the front seats so my sister could sleep on the back seat. I told them how my sister would make friends easily wherever we went, and how she would cry when we’d leave a year after that. I told them how I didn’t do those things, and how coming to know them slowly was something I appreciated. Everyone cried.

Fifteen years, five college enrollments, dropouts, and an inauspicious stint in our nation’s armed services later, and I started banging away at a keyboard and flinging my half-ass empurpled prose at a few writer-friends I met through a Seahawks fan site. Go ‘Hawks. I got some decent feedback and kept plugging away. Now I’m doing the thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions about popping out one novel, becoming a best-selling author and living the rest of my life on easy street. Writing is hard work. It’s harder than working hard at a hard job. It’s thankless, merciless, and you have to be a little bit crazy to take a serious stab at it. Nobody likes rejection. Nobody is going to pay you if you suck. You have to take your lumps. And even if you don’t suck, well, not everybody gets to be an astronaut. That’s the harsh reality. But I’m doing the thing anyway. Because fuck it, why not? I’m at two rejections and counting.