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Monday, March 31, 2008

A New Story of Sorts

Another story, folks. Up for it? "Big Fishing" was emailed with a subject line that said, Reject this Tail. Go figure. Below as a prologue is the author's warning, followed by the story, which refuses to put periods inside closed quotes and surely loves the comma, but otherwise here it is.....(with apologies to those who hate the rejected story corner feature of this blog):

Caution from the author: "Big Fishing" is a fiery tale or exaggerated proportions. It should not be read while under the influence of alcohol. The character Qfwfq is dedicated to Italo Calvino a genius of the highest magnitude and one of my literary heroes. Any resemblance of any other character to personages living or dead, should be highly suspected and perused in court.

Big Fishing

"I just don't now about these boys, Cap'n" Old Qfwfq mused as he stroked his wispy silver gray beard, some of the finely thin strands reaching almost to his protruding collarbone. The Captain, engrossed, as usually, in his one of fishing videos, merely nodded approval, without turning around, missing not a single line of digital feed, on his newly purchased, Extreme Definition, Super Duper, StadiumSurroundSound ©, Smell-O-Vision, Dvd Player and portable toaster oven.

"Times have changed an awful lot." Qfwfq continued, not sure if he had an audience or not. "Now before I came down with all this Rheumatism and Whooping cough and, before the Cap'n went off and got married"

"You don't have Whooping cough", Jameson quickly snapped," Whooping Cough is an actual disease and not an adjective, Qfwfq”.

Jameson, feeling quite snugged in his retort, adjusted his tie and turned back around to view, Interior Cam-C. He lightly scratched his perpetually present five o’clock shadow growth of beard.

Just that moment he caught sight of a disruption in the fluctuation of wave patterns on the Electro-Static Distortion Meter. That particular meter happened to be sitting a top, of a jury-rigged, non- departmental issued, Tracking Spy-Cam, to which a curious Station-Watch Commander Jameson turned to next, for more intensive review.

"Well, when I coughs, I whoops and I when I whoop, I whoops it up for a damn long time; so if that's not Whooping cough, then I don’t know what is? Qfwfq shot back, a slight tinge of attitude lingering in his voice. "Anyway! as I was saying, we, The Cap'n and I, really knew how to live life to the fullest back in those days, not like you college boys" accused Qfwfq. Thrown off track, by the correction amended to his self appraised medical condition, Qfwfq took a moment refill his pipe. After composing himself, stuffing his pipe and nitpicking up a few vagrant shreds of tobacco along, with any glimmer of credibility left, Qfwfq continued.” Looks like all you boys are concerned with is what IRA plan will eventually net you the best false teeth. Qfwfq felt as though he had regained his confidence.

“Now there was a time when, once the young ladies had exited the Beauty, Botox and Hair Salons, they were given flyers with the Captain's and I's pictures on it; advising them, now that they were all prettied up and such, they aught to beware of smooth talking, fancy dressers such as, the Captain and I. The flyers went on to explain to them some of the finer points as to how one should conduct themselves now that they had obtained certain degree desirability. It was a pity but those girls really needed some lessons on womanhood.

"They only gave them the flyers after, they came out". The Captain chimed in. "The Christian groups particularly, they knew, that we knew, most of those girls were a real mess beforehand, they were safe for the time being, certifiably exempt. Whuuu! those girls were a real mess, fashion and hair nightmare, upon arrival." The Captain shook his head, earnestly, in mild disgust.

"Kodai! I think we just may have a Burner wandering around on level C." Gasped an elated Jameson. The distortion field was registering unauthorized frequencies and the X-ray scope function on the Spy-Cam did suggest some sort of internal electronic devices in the lower regions.

Nowadays, with all the electronic gadgets, that people are surrounded by, have on them or, are wirelessly and skinjacked hooked up to, electro-fires, incapability surges and the likes were almost an everyday occurrence, even spontaneous combustion, due to our own natural internal electrical activity interacting haphazardly with external forces had been cited in a few cases.

For liability purposes, The El Grande Shoppo Mall, like most mega-malls, has on-site, their own Mini-Fire and Emergency Rescue Station. Mini-stations usually have crews of five to ten fire fighters and various medical and technical personnel. Most days, they need only to respond to the usual, minor e-shocks, slips and falls an occasional heart attack, interestingly, usually by husband, once presented with the shopping receipts collected by his wife or teen daughter.

Then there was the occasional puffer-upper to attend to, down in the Food-Pharma court, with a slice of lime or popcorn shrimp caught between the larynx and the pharynx.

But a Burner, that was a nasty deal. Here is someone, that has illegally downloaded operational software and up-linked a 3Љ hummer-bass woofer rod up his a-hole. All of this, mostly for the mere pleasure of being able to rattle his can like a 63 Chevy Impala low rider, to the squeals and delights of some sweet, easily amused, doe eyed twirliept.

Now on his own and down in the barrio, homeboy, would’ve have faced nothing more discomforting than an occasional hemorrhoid or two, by having the aforementioned gizmos fitted him where the Lord splitted him. But accompanied by accessories, like the new sleek EdeKron 4 googlebyte hard drive and dual Czechoslovakian made: banned in the US, Flesh Permeating, Sound-SurroundSpeakers, and; who knows, what manner of chop-shop hydraulics and inflatable implants, shoved in and around butt, the stakes for injury had demonstrably increased.

The crew had been lucky, not to have had, any such incursions go down on their watch since the fad had started. Not much was known as to what the youths were up to in their underground worlds of Rattleling and Can-Band but word on the street was that the technology as well as the hydraulics had amped considerably. Back in the day, a member of the Rattler’s or the Can- Band’er’s cru carried a fire extinguisher along to a dance off, to blow out an occasional flame or flare up that might have been caused in the event a dancer happened to produce a rather gaseous and ignitable fart doing his routine, be it planned or accidental. Any burns or afflictions incurred by the dancer back then was more or less superficial and even, sometimes touted about like a badge of honor by the daring performer.

But with all the rivalry now generated between the cru-s and with the escalation of hydraulics and technology, emergency rooms have reported more serious admissions. There is even a rumor going around that there is an underground video title’ Butts Gone Wild Fire’ circulating amongst more extremist elements in certain hardcore groups.

"What happened to just shaking your booty, ala naturale? Now you got all this funk in da trunk nonsense.” The Captain mumbled, just barely audible, as he reached for the Smell-O- Nozzle of the Dvd player. He wanted to get a good whiff of the trout that had just been hauled on board by the fishing party expedition featured the video.

"Maybe I should go and arrest him, for possession of illegal contraband?” Kodai said with an anticipatory smile. Even sitting Fire Officer Kodai stood taller than most men, his Russian accent enunciating each word with coldly precession. The Captain and Old Qfwfq had come to the conclusion that sitting on the wad of money, he always carried in his over-sized wallet added at least another two inches or so to his frame. He was second in command of the Mini substation, the Captain’s title being ceremonious, based on years in service rather than rank.

"No we can’t." Interjected Jameson. “I can see it now, invasion of privacy, profiling, my Spy-Cam confiscated and no way! am I going up the butt to manually pull it out. Let just keep an eye on him for now, Kodai run a frequency spotter, he got to have at least 2 cells on him, we can probably shut them down without him knowing. That aught to cut down on some of the discharge static; pull a equalizer ring field around him, that should keep him from picking up passerbyer’s static and that should keep him, and them, safe for now”.

Just then, Technoman 2nd Stat Tony Murphy slid on a dolly from under a utility rack, tools in hand, spooking both Jameson and Kodai. He had been under there for so long they forgotten he was there. Technoman 2nd Stat Tony Murphy was the youngest member of the group. He had earned the nickname ‘Two-shift’ because it appeared that he was always there, at work, at the mini-station. Legend has it that no one had ever seen him arrive to work and, for that matter, no one had ever seen him leave. It was even discussed amongst the other members of the team if maybe they should call him ‘Three-shift-Tony’.

"I heard once that some kid was ratteling , his dance-off, his pants, already half hanging off his butt, he decided to go for the Full Monty moon as a closing move, when a horde of woodpeckers flew directly at’ em. Went straight for the tushee, one of them possibly penetrating." Tony said enthusiastically, yet with all the seriousness and profession delivery of a News Reporter on assignment. The other members of the crew nodded but, more in sarcasm than agreement.

The Captain however took serious consideration to what had been said and muttered under his breath “Damn Woodpeckers ruined, My Water-King 350 Skip Jack".

Meanwhile, Jamison had rebuffed Two-shift for spending too! much on the internet’s ‘Die Space’ site. “You know that most of the stuff they report is never substantiated by any other credible news source" Jameson counseled.

“Look it was a Woodpecker that stopped the launch of shuttle mission and the Russians say one had stowed-away and they caught it on the Space Station. That’s ‘Revelations’ for you. They said it's…

Two-shift’s rebuttal was abruptly interrupted by the Captain, now irritated, due to the fond memories of his ruined craft the discussion had generated.

"So, are you guys going fishing with me next month or not?” The Captain barked, "I can’t hold reservations on that Rent a Boat forever you know".

“What's the weather gonna be like”? Quizzed Qfwfq "You know my bones reek with the rheumatism in all that cold…and wet weather".

"I might have to go to a real estate seminar that week-end." Confirmed Kodai, there’s a Shanty town, sitting on some valuable real estate down by the border, the government is going to bulldoze it soon and I want a piece that action just as soon as they do.”

"Not now, Captain" Rebuffed Jameson, "looks like our guy may be headed in the direction of Radio Hut and OK Buy, way too! much electromagnetic static down there, not to mention, the gadget goons going to shop in that area are probably top heavy with pocketops and cells. Not good, not good, Jameson reported, franticly trying to get density readout from the Static Sampler machine. “Prepare to Engage,” He announced.

Reluctant to completely surrender hold of the nozzle to the Smell-O-Vision, The Captain, using his free hand, adjusted the Fire-Stat Band to Condition: Preparatory Orange, thus allowing a noiseless drawer in the StaticGard cabinet to mechanically slide open revealing two briefcase size Electro-Trays.

“Qfwfq,” Summoned the Captain, “Do an equipment check-list count and go in the back and see if you can find or at least rig up some sort of a Proctorooter, in case we have to go in, better put on an Electro-Suit for precaution, report to Level C and be on stand-by.

"Damn E-suit”, Grunted Qfwfq, “That thing takes all day to put on and it’s hot as Hell". Qfwfq continued to complain as he hobbled back to the equipment room. “I just hope I don’t get a coughing spell once am sealed up in that suffocating thing”.

"Oh! Not now!” Shrieked Jameson. Just as luck would have it, while taking a quick survey scan of the entire C-Level. Who should he see but Old Man Nancy patronizing the Food-Pharma Court. He quickly switched over to the Spy -Cam. Jameson reported to the crew that she was sitting at a table chowing down on what looked liked Prozac Stew and washing it down with a creamy Thorazine Strawberry Shake.

“Soooo”, that why she is always so calm." Deduced Kodai.

Old Man Nancy was not some sort of Transvestite, Hermaphrodite, Trans-gender or Super Freak. Old Man Nancy was in fact not a man. Neither was Old Man Nancy old. The truth be told she was even younger than Two-shift Tony. Old Man Nancy was called that (never to her face, of course), for a couple or reasons. One, she was in charge of the whole South-West Quadrant which truly made her Da'Man. And in a case of sheer irony, Vice Commander Nancy Youngmei Wong was in fact so petite and so feminine that she was as far away as one could get from being a man without completely changing into another species. Many folks had doubts about such a seemingly gentle and feminine being even working at fire-station yet alone, being a Regional Commander. Even members within her own family thought it was all just a hoax. They concluded her she had been cleverly crafted by the Public Relations department and charged with the mission to increase female enrollment to the Fire Department.

“Damn, damn, damn". Exclaimed Jameson. “I hope she is just down there enjoying herself and not her for a surprise inspection".

“Well she is not wearing a uniform.”Kodai confirmed as he hunched over to view the display.

"In civilian clothes." Perked in”, Two-shift “Is she hot? Let me have a look at her"

Meanwhile Jameson had gone back to monitoring the Burner on the Interior Cam, or shall we say at this point, the potential Burner. In the second of time that it took Kodai to turn the Spy-cam monitor in the direction of Two-shift, she was gone from view and a disappointed Tony failed to get a look-see. "How does she do that"? Marveled Kodai.

“Hey who left the door open?" Barked Jameson, aware of changes in the quality of air. “We’re letting all the pura-Air out, you guys want to breath conventional or what? He went back to monitoring. “We are in luck guys, looks like our boy is actually headed towards the Food-Pharma Court, let’s see, he is looking around. Bingo! I think he’s going to have something to eat.

“That aught to by us some time to come up with a plan” concurred. Kodai.

From the back room the team could hear Qfwfq chatting. "Who the Hell is Old Qfwfq talking to” Puzzled the Captain”. I never-ever.. seen him as much talk on a cell phone.

"People are starting to crack, nowadays, the institutions are filling up at record numbers." Warned an easily sensationalized Two-shift, “Its all the waves of information and disinformation osmosising through the atmosphere, vexating and tribulation, interfering with and disrupting our own natural neurotransmitters, it’s a chaotic thing, I tell ya”.

“Qfwfq”! Who the Hell are you talking to?" The Captain blasted out, not wishing to descend any further into what he was sure to become another one of Two-shift’s dissertations on Chaos and the breakdown of the Human Species and, the second coming of the Mayans and, on and on and,… on.

“Old Man, I mean.. Ahw! Man, Commander Nancy is back here helping me rig up this damn E-suit” the disembodied voice of Qfwfq echoed from some place far in the back.

Moment later, clumsily out walked Old Qfwfq looking like a cross between the mummy and one of the astronauts from SpaceBoy, the popular anime character of the day. He was followed by Commander Wong now suddenly arrayed in a sleekly clad, crisp, midnight black uniform. The crew was dumbfounded. “Damn. That's why, at the other station houses, they call her The Ninja." Marveled the Captain, in an amazed whisper.

"Why is Fireman Qfwfq, the only one suiting up?" inquired Commander Nancy. “And exactly what is he suited up for? I don’t hear any sirens, see any lights a flashing” She puffed.

Whatever brand of anti-perspiration gel Station Watch Commander Jameson had put on that morning, now buckled like a Louisiana levee, under the penetrating stare of the Commander Wong. A multitude of little rivers of sweat broke free, instantly streaking his finely pressed Oxford shirt.

Kodai intervened by offering up the first explanation, citing that he was in the process of calibrating an Equalizer ring to be spun around a potential Electrocidal shopper. However, when the Commander ventured over to the monitor all she saw was Flat Rings, impotent, resting on the bottom of the visual display field. Now caught in the first spun fibers of an early web of deceit, Kodai advanced entanglement by attempted to explain why the Flat Rings were off-line and, how he was going to reconfigured the command codes and rectify the problem. At this juncture, out of Commander’s Wong’s view, without saying a word, by just pantomiming a few gestures, effectively using his hands and tools, to get the point across, Two-shift Tony was able to convey that trouble with the E-ring Emitter was the reason he had been under the utility rack in the first place. After the extraordinary performance of mime, Kodai's explanation trailed off to a whisper of high-tech jibber jabber.

While her attention was still focused on, the now barely audible, Kodai, The Captain had carefully managed to discreetly turn off the fishing video and now stood in front of a defuser circuit board. He was in the process of strapping on a Corinthian leather gun belt, with two customized, Mother of Pearl and silver handle, AED- difibber-guns as if, it had been his intention all along.

Jameson, now looked more like a man who had just ejected from a crowded subway car with a broken air conditioner on a hot August day, than he did as Station Watch Commander in a plush, state of the art, Pura-air cooled Techno-Control Room. Thinking fast, Jameson raced towards the Commander with an Operation and Procedure Book in hand. "Commander Wong" Jameson nervously approached," We got a situation here that is too! recent in scope, to be properly addressed in the manual. And I was being innovated, trying...trying to act in advance of…

Finally, Two-shift saved the day by blurting out “Commander Wong, do you know what a Burner is?”

The other mega- malls under Commander Wong’s jurisdiction were in such affluent areas and, with this rattleling craze being relatively a new phenomena confined to the hoods, barrios and inner-cities; she had no clue as to what a Burner was.

Although having saved the crew much embarrassment and possible demerits and demotions, Jameson, sensing that Two-shift may not be prone to exercising the greatest diplomacy in explaining the virtues of rattleling to a lady, even if she was a Area Commander, reasserted his charge and went on to give Commander Wong a more technical if not censored version, of the definition of a Burner. He then, very delicately, proceeded to explain how he had ascertained that presently a certain mall attending youth may in fact be a Burner.

“Is our boy ordering yet?" Changing gears, Jameson queried.

“Look like he’s is getting the number 12 at the Wimpy Burger. “ Acknowledged Kodai getting a closer, more detailed look on the Spy-Cam.

“Great!” Interjected Two-shift, that’s the Real American Burger Special, that aught to hold him for awhile, Two, quarter pound burgers, one beef, one pork, smothered in three cheeses of your choosing, toped with mayonnaise, guacamole, special sauce, additional three bacon strips on the beef burger, and your choice of complimentary toppings, a large order of sugar fried fries and a minibucket of a refreshing beverage. Man talk about good eating, I had a number 12 for breakfast this morning.

“Well then, what are we going to do, since according to Mr. Jameson, we don’t even supposed to know that he has all this hardware and software on himm, I mean in him, unless we had somehow already illegally scanned him thus invading his civil right to privacy, which, by the way,We Did.” Pronounced Commander Wong.

The Captain had seen and heard many things during his many years at the department and in service out in the field but this was the first time ever, he had ever to witness a single drop of sweat lift-off from a persons body and land to the floor with an audible’ plop!’ Jameson looked, at that moment, as if he would be in more in need the of the crew’s services than the suspected, alleged, profiled and potential Burner.

“Let’s just go grab the guy, diffuse the hardware and send him home limping”, voiced Kodai,” let the courts decide whether or not we violated his rights, in the process of possibly saving his life, or at least, his butt”

“Yavol herr kommandant”, mocked Old Qfwfq his voice muffled and at times muted from being held hostage under the canary yellow colored, hood mask with dimmer blue face shield. “We gots no rights as to what’s up that boy’s behind, If he’s fool enough to stuff it up there, then he’s fool enough to deal with the consequences but, I don’t think we can just go all up in there and trash it or, without a warrant, remove the boy’s equipment”.

“I would like to give a shoot out to the youth”, beamed in Two-Shift. “I mean like sooner
or later we’re all gonna be somehow skinjacked to this port here, getting our, whatever on. Then we be skinjacked to some port there just because it required by the law or because the
government says it's good for us. So the young folks are just upping the ante, staying ahead of
the game by becoming the source rather than be sourced or being forced to seek out the source.

“Wait a minute guys”, advised Jameson, whatever we do, let’s make sure we get this guy
into an isolated area. The last thing we need right now is someone…

“Spying on us?” Chirped Commander Nancy.

“How do you catch fish?” The Captain broke in, he had been silent and not engaged in the discussion up to this point. He touched the brim of his, non –issued, yachting captain’s cap with a two finger salute, indicating experience.

“By using good bait” Old Qfwfq spouted off, eager to be the first one in with a response.
The Captain wisely nodded and confirmed Qfwfq’s correct answer. Qfwfq, concealed behind the
opaque mask, unable to properly beam for the benefit of his fellow crew members, simply settled for ceremoniously adjusting his, no need to be adjusted E-suit, for effect.

“And what do we use for good bait?” Intoned Commander Wong, growing a bit unnerved by what she perceived were suggestive glances in her direction. The Captain took a pause and then advanced himself to the center of the group.” May I be so bold as to elaborate?” The Captain began. “No disrespect for gender or rank, Commander Wong, but since the beginning of time, for the male, the best lure of attraction has always been the charisma of a well attended to female”.

“So, you’re suggesting that I just waltz up to him and ask him to follow me to some secluded corner?” Commander Nancy asked, masking a certain degree of offense.

“No that would be crude and insulting to you, even if it did work.” The Captain assured.
“We’re talking something more refined here, something much more cultured. Don’t just assume a man is to be given in to the allures of a woman simply because she is woman?”

“Might work on him though.” Two-shift postulated in the foreground.

“Good once we get him cornered, I’ll tackle him to the ground.”Chimed Kodai.

“No, no, no.” The Captain continued, trying to get the focus back to his sermon.” What attracts a man to a woman is her sense of elegance, refinement, a mysteriously concealed sensuality…” The Captain…

“Sophistication, maturity and a nice do.” Old Qfwfq raced in, at 186.000 miles a second.

The Captain went on to explain how with the right amount or attitude and demeanor with just a hint of provocation, how she could get him to do whatever she wished without being crude, lewd or cheapish. “I suggest that you bestow upon this misdirected youth…”

“Well! Whatever she is going to bestow, she better start bestowing quick.” Interjected Two-shift bursting the melodramatic bubble.” Our boy has laid to rest the pork burger and has a firm hold on the beef. And by the way Captain, this ain’t da club.”

“Let’s get to then.” Asserted the Captain, no time to change into your civvies but could you sex up the uniform just a bit.” Reluctantly, Vice Commander, Nancy Youngmei Wong, compiled. It was decided that Commander Wong should attempt to persuade the B-boy to accompany her to Level G. Level G would have the least amount of vehicles parked on lot in the parking structure. The shops on Level G were mostly Book stores, Vintage Record shops, a Wild Bran Market and gym that catered to children. That level had very sparse foot traffic and the lot was always half deserted.

“The bun is OK by my standards but you might want to lose it for the youth.” Pitched in a faceless Qfwfq. Commander Wong sneered and set off about her mission.

Foreseeing that whatever action they decided to take may one day be added to the Fire Departments Operation and Procedures Manual, Fire Officer Jameson took the precaution of
hauling a tripod and digiCam up to Level G. He also had the presence of mind and ambition to change into another crispy pressed oxford shirt and tie for the occasion. The other crew members had brought and were in the process of assembling and laying out all the equipment and materials they thought they may possibly have to use. Along with the standard emergency medical and fire equipment, Fire Officer Kodai decided to bring a stun gun, truncheon and Tq4 professional police baton just in case, as he hoped, thing got out of hand. Qfwfq, now
having the outdoors to contend with, complained bitterly about the humidity factor he was now imagined himself to be experiencing inside the E-suit. Nevertheless he professionally went about laying out the equipment from the EletroTray in neat orderly columns. Now wishing to be outgunned by the Captain, he had also strapped on his own customized defibber gun, awkwardly, to the bulky E-suit. From outward appearance his guns looked liked standard issue but Qfwfq had fashioned a smiley face on their surface plates that would indelibly be stenciled on the chest of a deserving recipient. Technoman Murphy had gotten all his tools and gadgets set up fairly quickly and being a card carrying member of the ADD generation had already grown bored with the wait and was deeply engaged in video games and virtual simulations his PS2∞.

“Hey! Pondered Old Qfwfq, no friend to technology, himself. “Can you program into that thing, a virtual simulation as to how an Eletro-fire in the butt could come about and what the results would look like? Man oh! man, talk about your fire in the hole.” Old Qfwfq grimaced.

Two-shift Tony received the request with a great amount of consideration, then evaluation and followed by (due to the earlier ingested #12) flatulence-ation. Two-shift deem that it just might be possible and set straight forth to achieving such.

We’ll never know what charms Commander Nancy used to get the B-boy to walk her up to Level G but their effects delivered the goods. Not even the fact that she was in uniform, albeit a now sexed up uniform, could dissuade the youth from escorting her. He had even planned to treat her to a little demonstration of his musical man-humps. Sadly for him, these plans came to an abrupt end once he stepped out of the stairwell on Level G. Terror griped the lad as he saw rushing towards him, flashing badges, like two G-men from a badly produced Roaring 20’s serial; Fire Officer Jameson and Goliath-like Officer Kodai. Panicking, the youth made a run for it, his low swung trousers, impeding a quality chase. Taking a blind corner around a parking attendant’s shed, the youth collided, full force into Old Qfwfq, sending Qfwfq, much like his Diver Dan forbearer look- a - like, over the side of the guardrail and into the great abyss.

The youth, knocked out cold, had somehow triggered his play operational function to GO before his lights went out. A horrified Commander Wong, unsure as to what she could do in face of such a bizarre spectacle, looked on, frozen in her tracks.

Jameson and Kodai rushed to the aid of Fireman Qfwfq who was now suspended over seven stories by the utility belt being used to harness his diffiber guns. In the fall, the belt had become caught on a mooring post on the rail. Nevertheless, doom was still being debated by threads of government issued cloth which at that point were stretched to the breaking point; Old Qfwfq took the liberty to notify Elizabeth of his soon to be arrival into the hereafter. The fact that there was no one in Qfwfq’s life named Elizabeth was mote at that point and Qfwfq didn’t feel the need to challenge his rational mind over the issue. However Qfwfq rescue was only seconds away.

Two-shift took careful note how the sight of seeing Jameson and Kodai haul Fireman Qfwfq back from over the rail an unto the parking lot surface, looked remarkable similar to the segment had had seen earlier on the Captain’s fishing video of the fishing party hauling the caught trout on board the boat. He made an entry into his PS2∞.This bared further examination at a later time.

The Captain was the last to arrive on the scene; he had been in the portatoily, taking care of nature’s business unaware of the happenings going about outside. What he saw caused him to shout out in disgust and point a condemning finger. “That’s an abomination.” He watched the seemingly lifeless body of Francisco Javier Lopez, propelled by his technological enhanced hindquarters, rhythmically bounce up and down and to and fro, on the El Grande Shoppo Mall tarmac, to the tune of MC Hammer’s ‘Can’t Touch This,’ like a Mexican Jumping Bean two days away from its birthday.

Thank God for both the Captain’s and Commander’s Nancy sake, the tune was in its last chorus and no song had been cued up for next play. The song now played out and emotions abated, the crew set about their next course of action, all for except Qfwfq. He still lay on the tarmac, exactly where they had pulled over to and, taking full advantage of his reclined position,
decided to get himself a happy nap. He had just been through a traumatic event and thought the rest would do him good. And anyway, he wanted no parts of what he still believed to be an invasion of the youth’s civil liberties.

The youth exhibited a brief amount of dazed consciousness. Commander Nancy, gently by his side tried to offer reassuring words, just before slamming him up with full dose of Dormazine.
Jameson let go a resounding snap of the cuff of an examination glove he had just dawned. He carefully surveyed the array of surgical tools that lay before him. Jameson summarized that the collision of the youth with Qfwfq had actually been in their favor. They could report that they just wanted to question the youth on an unrelated matter. Some of their equipment was missing from the, impromptu, training demonstration they had decided to conduct. They would assert that they thought he may have been involved. They could further imply that in the aftermath of the pursuit and collision that the boy’s equipment started to dangerously malfunction thus directing the crew to investigate the conditions surrounding his behind. Seeing the imminent danger, we had no choice but to go in and remove the equipment, concluded the Station Watch Commander.

Kodai rived up the whirling proctorooter that Qfwfq had managed to rig up from various parts of other equipment. The dental drill whirl of the device caused Qfwfq to abandon his happy nap. Kodai proceeded to order the Captain to get the KY jell and prepare for entry. An empathic Commander Wong asked if the procedure would cause the youth much pain. Commander Nancy was unaware that she was absentmindedly rubbing his Francisco’s back with tender care as she look expectantly, back and forth one officer to another searching for some reassuring answer. She found none.

The Captain respectfully saluted then began to draw down the boys oversized boxers shorts. Commander Nancy, hand held to her mouth and turned away. Staff Officer Kodai revved up the proctorooter one more time, sending it through it various gears, like a Harley in heat.

“My God,” gasped Old Qfwfq from his sedentary post. He now felt a surge of guilt from having rigged up the apparatus.” Do we really have to go up the kid’s butt with that thing?”

“Its either that or possibly this” piped up Technoman 2nd Stat Murphy. Two-shift had just at that moment received the benefits of his labors. The information and various codes he had loaded into his PS2∞ finally posted. He could now run a simulation of an electric butt fire due to either malfunctioning components or shoddy workmanship. The crew temporarily abandoned their roles to view the rather life like graphics displayed on Tony’s PS2∞. Jameson complimented Two-shift on the quality of the program and suggested he upload it to the Digicam for further evidence on the hazardousness of the dangerous new fad.

“Hey! Yelled Qfwfq,” He was now quite comfortable speaking from a prone position. He had also concluded that the E-suit wasn’t really that bad so long as you didn’t have to walk or work in it. Its heavily padded insulation panels offered it nest like quality. It made, for Qfwfq, a rather nice sleeping bag. “Why don’t we just bring the boy out of nacreous, show him the program Commander Nancy take the boy off privately and personally explain to him the dangers of such lifestyle?”

And bring that thing over here so I can have a look. Also I am on break now; I’ll be out here awhile.

Many years later, as Tony Murphy leaned over port side of the Captain’s new and, paid for, RiverQueen Deluxe, Twin Board with the optional, anti-Woodpecker undercoat, He reminisced.

“Cap’n who would have thought it?

The Captain, already sensing where Tony was headed. Shook his head, to indicate, not him.

“Doctor Francisco Javier Lopez, Designer and President of a fortune 500 company, designing sound systems used to restore hearing capacities to the deaf and hearing impaired.”

“That freeloading Jameson and Kodai got rich just by buying up all that stock in his company.”

“And how about that Mrs. Lopez”

“I wonder if she still has her old uniform”

“You ever hear from Old Qfwfq?”

“No he kind of disappeared, years ago, last I heard he we headed somewhere up North, in the wilderness.”

“Not the hiking suit that doubles as a suspendable sleeping bag idea?”


“Cap’n, who in their right mind would want to hang from a tree in an over puffed suit?”

“At least he’ll have one customer.”

“Hey! remember the stupid jingle idea he had as sales promotion?”

“To the Bears 1.2.3. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!”
“To the Bears 1.2.3. CAN’T TOUCH THIS!”

“Hey I think I got a bite”


Monday (After the Novel is Written)

"You are free and that is why you are lost." --Franz Kafka

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Last Week's Fatal Rejections

Friday, March 28, 2008

Me-First Rejection

An anonymous LROD reader in this amusing rejection reversal story. "I simsubbed a story out to three journals last autumn. One of them bought it, so I had the pleasure of sending withdrawal letters to the other two.  The responses I got back from those two show how differently these journals can operate: one wrote me back right away -- a polite and happy letter from the editor herself, congratulating me, and asking me to please send more work as soon as I could.  The other?  No response at all...until months later, when in the mail came the SASE from my original submission with the above slip inside. Ooh! They must've been raving mad!  Like, "Take that!" No, sorry, Harpur Palate, let's just set the record straight here: *I* rejected *you*!"

The Last Story Contest

I've decided that I'm not going to send away to short story contests any more. This was my last one.  Disclosure: I did just enter my recently completed novel in two contests, though.  One was a free literary prize at a small press, which includes publication, and the other offers a prize of $15,000.00 plus publication.  But, they are contests nonetheless, and I will post the rejections when those come in.  Will I ever learn?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Psuedo-literary Ficto-tainment?

An interesting update on the Zadie Smith/Willesden Herald mess at The Coming of the Toads. Apparently, there's been a response letter from Smith and Willesden Herald. Here's an excerpt: “Just like everybody, we at The Willesden Herald are concerned about the state of contemporary literature. We are depressed by the cookie-cutter process of contemporary publishing, the lack of truly challenging and original writing, and the small selection of pseudo-literary fictio-tainment that dominates our chain bookstores.” As Toads' joelinker points out: "Does that describe the stories they received? We don’t know."

Here's a link to the letter in full. What do you think?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Colony of Rejection

Here is a rejection from MacDowell Colony, who's tagline is "Giving Artists Freedom to Create." The thing that stings about this rejection is that I'm a former fellow. About ten years ago, I had a delightful stay. I ate lunches delivered in a little charming basket to my cabin in the woods. I sat by the fire and thought. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I enjoyed a lovely fellowship with my fellow writers. However, now, I fear I have somehow become irrelevant, and this is embarrassing. Someone suggested to me that it's more difficult to get in during the summer session (last time I was there in a cooler season); summer is when all the academic artists apply and get in. I am told summer is when sexual affairs and other non-writing activities are pursued. In the fall, when I was there, we had no time for such matters; we were busy writing. But, anyway, I've always thought of MacDowell as my place, though clearly it does not always think of me as its writer.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Biology of a Rejection

Here's a note from an LROD reader for your enjoyment:

W,R, how about this example?

It's what I see as a helpful rejection from an agent. Said agent, who'll remain anonymous, drew my attention away from my writing and to my story telling - something a couple of other agents had hinted at. This agent explicitly described what she saw as the problem with my book proposal in a way that I found useful. The story I'm telling is true (that's truthfully-true, not Frey-true/ Seltzer-true). I thought that my story's narrative drove itself, but it seems books aren't quite so simple.

The email, rejecting:

Dear Peter Corkeron:

I read your material with great interest -- I learned a lot and was amazed at what a wildlife biologist has to do for a living. However, I don't think you've got a good grip on how to tell the story. I found it hard to follow and had too many questions about what was going on -- or who was who -- to think I could interest a publisher in it. I think you have a gift for description and you're writing is lively. But that's not enough -- I think you've got to craft a really strong narrative to make a book like this work for the general public. It's really a matter of learning technique, I think, since you write well.

I also didn't think the proposal with its strong polemical message matched the story you were telling. In any event, I think the way to handle an argument like this is to involve the reader and make him or her care about the seals and their environment. Then you can slip in the polemic while they're not looking.It may make sense for you to work with a professional book editor or perhaps just to study up (in a course or with a book) on how to tell a story. If you do work on it along these lines, I'd certainly like to see it again.

[A kind agent]

P.S. And [short, shameless plug here] if anyone wants to read what she's talking about, browse The right-hand sidebar has a section "Stories of fieldwork" - three chapterish thingies are there. Or try "Eclampsia" in "Preeclampsia Pieces."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This Week In Rejections

  • David Williams over at The Soundcheck & The Fury, offers some interesting words on literary rejections. A highlight: "I wish editors would find a new way to say, "Sorry, but we didn't get off on your story." Because either you do or you don't. That's what it comes down to, always. That's everybody's literary "need" -- to read a story and be moved by it, staggered by the thing."

  • Blogging Literary Agent (Bliterary Agent) Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown shares his rejection letter here. It's total standard fare: "Thank you for your recent letter. I regret to say that I don’t feel that I’m the most appropriate agent for your work. However, opinions vary considerably in this business, and I wish you the best of luck in your search for representation." At least he doesn't say "Alas!"

  • Jessica at BookEnds LLC, a Bliterary Agency Online, offers advice about how to fire an agent who won't answer the phone. It's an amusing answers to an amusing question.

  • In an interesting interview, Bliterary Agent Kate Schafer of KT Literary (also bloggingly, and somewhat unfortunately, known as Daphne Unfeasible), says: "I hate the rejection as much as authors do. Also, seeing a book you love and have worked with the author and the editor on for years not do as well as you all hoped is tough too."

Friday, March 21, 2008

The House of No

Here's the rejection from Tin House Books, as promised in yesterday's post. As far as rejection encouragement goes, it's a pretty good one. It says: "Dear Writer, Rejected: Thank you for letting us take a look at [title of book of creative nonfiction]. Many of us here, including Lee, read your manuscript with interest. The writing is lively, and the subject matter is intriguing. Unfortunately, we don't feel the manuscript is right for Tin House Books. While we did find the book to be "viable" we are focusing our attention on literary fiction as we begin to make a name for ourselves. I wish you the best of luck placing [title] with another publisher, and strongly encourage you to try us again with future projects." Anyone out there want a lively, intriguing, "viable" work of personal, literary nonfiction?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Can't Believe I'm Posting a Photo of Heath Ledger

A hot tip from an LROD reader revealed this craziness. It appears that Esquire Magazine hired "associate editor of Golf Magazine and aspiring fiction writer," Lisa Taddeo, to write a story of "reported fiction" entitled "The Last Days of Health Ledger." I think Esquire has just taken our celebrity-stalking culture and reality-TV-fiction obsession to a whole new level. I wonder if the Ledger thing was Taddeo's idea or some editor at Esquire. Maybe she'll write in and tell us how it all came down.

Here's how the whole project is described:

"To write a conceivable chronicle of Heath Ledger's final days, writer Lisa Taddeo visited the actor's neighborhood, talked to the store owners and bartenders who may have seen him during his last week, and read as many accounts and rumors about the events surrounding his death as possible. She filled in the rest with her imagination. The result is what we call reported fiction. Some of the elements are true. (Ledger was in London. He was a regular at the Beatrice Inn and the Mirö Cafe. And he was infatuated with Nick Drake). Others are not."

Also here's another story by Taddeo. And another. What do you think of her writing?

Tin Hope

I found this errant rejection slip with the nice scrawling hand-written invitation. I believe this one let me run on the intoxicating fumes of hope for several months. I even had it posted to my bulletin board, which now just plain makes me feel sad for myself. Ultimately, of course, the full-length creative nonfiction book got as rejected as the essay did above. (I found that rejection, too, stuffed away in a file;I'll post it for your enjoyment tomorrow.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Deep Knee Bends

It's been a month, and still no word from the replacement agent (my real agent unexpectedly left the business). In keeping with my ongoing Google Ad confusion, here's what the current Google Ad at the bottom of my page has to say about my predicament, or about something. Well, I don't really pretend to understand the workings of the Google Ads. But sometimes I believe that the inappropriate google ads are divining my future:

Better Knee Replacements The Amazing Partial or Custom Knee Top NY Center-Manhattan/Westchester

Just Say No

The Blogging Literary Agent (Bliterary Agent? Obliterary Agent?) Janet Reid has gleefully discovered a new way to reject you. See how in a post entitled "My New Approach to Rejection Letters."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Rejected Story II: Should It Be Published?

Our brave anonymous wanted to post another story and let you have at it.

Here are the author's notes: "The open auditions referred to actually took place (I lived in New York at the time). I wrote it long before the movie "Capote" came out. If you saw the film, did you notice anything about Perry Smith's legs? I asked four people that leading question, and none of them noticed a thing (one woman said that she noticed he had two). The movie distorted many facts. I changed the title to "Deus Ex Machina" for its appearance at your site. I won't darken your Inbox with another story. No, no, don't plead. It won't do you any good.

Here are the only comments I got (out of 18 rejections)":

"On behalf of all my colleagues at XXX, I thank you for submitting your work and giving us an opportunity to consider it. Unfortunately, we are going to pass on publishing this story. You should know that "XXXX" was well received by my colleagues, and consequently, remained on our "backburner" for some time until the final acceptance decisions were made. We know that the story is likely under consideration elsewhere , and we are confident that it will find a home (if it hasn’t already.)"

To Mr. Prescience: Wrong!

"I like this story, it’s intriguing and beautifully done, but I don’t think it’s quite right for me."

Our anonymous author adds: "This comment is from an author whose name you would recognize. I wonder what he wants? Not something intriguing and beautifully done. So I quit writing and became a harness maker."

Here's the story:

Deus Ex Machina

Whenever Aaron, during his growing up years, happened to be in his father’s auto parts store, Ray would be seated on a stool at the far end of the counter, taking orders. He made no impression on the boy — just a voice talking into a phone. Then one day, as Aaron stood next to his father at the cash register, he heard that voice announce “Time for my lunch” and turned to see Ray slide from the stool. But he didn’t rise. Off the stool he was shorter than when he was on it. It was his legs — stunted, not the length of the top part of him. Actually, the torso was bigger than a normal man’s; his tight, black T-shirt hugged a weightlifter’s chest and shoulders, which made the lower part of his body seem even more out of proportion. His jeans fit loosely, the bottoms rolled into thick cuffs, and emerging from the cuffs were pointed boots. As he walked his whole body listed slightly from side to side, a shoulder moving forward with the same side leg. A kind of swagger. He came up beside Aaron, his eyes level with the nine-year-old boy’s.

“What you looking at?” he asked, with a mean grin.

Aaron pressed close to his father and heard him murmur “Now, Ray,” in a tone one might use on a recalcitrant stallion.

Ray would not again acknowledge Aaron’s existence until the summer after Aaron’s first year of college. During the span of almost a decade the only thing that Aaron saw change on Ray was his gnome-like face, becoming more wizened, a plum turning into a prune. The Indian-straight hair, slicked back, retained its shoe polish blackness, the torso stayed pumped up. The T-shirts were black and tight, a pack of cigarettes tucked under the fold of the right sleeve, above the bulging, tattooed biceps. The voice talked into the phone, as it had done before Aaron was born, speaking of cam shafts and master cylinders.

The silence between the two wasn’t caused by a lack of proximity. All through high school Aaron was required by his father to work in the store, to learn the business. Aaron began by cleaning up — sweeping, dusting, doing all the dirty, futile jobs. Later he unpacked boxes, shelved, filled orders, made deliveries, took inventory. First in one store, then in two others, as his father expanded his car parts empire. Not that Aaron received any benefits from being a wealthy man’s son. Not even a salary; room and board were not, in his father’s view, to be handed out free to an able-bodied teenager. And there was no appeal, for his father — the “sir” of Aaron’s life — took pride in being a hard man. He expected his son and wife and employees to bow to his just dictates with unquestioning obedience. Strange, then, that Ray treated his boss with the same slightly contemptuous indifference that he did everyone. Never a “sir” passed his lips. When Aaron asked his father about this he answered that he and Ray went back quite a few years. “Anyway, what matters is that the man knows cars inside out” — the highest praise that Aaron’s father could bestow.

A similar evaluation he could not give about his son, who was interested not in parts but in the arts. Aaron’s obsession with movies and novels and plays made absolutely no sense to him. How the hell could you make a living in the arts? “Lots of fags in show biz, son. Want to be around fags?”

So when Aaron got his way, leaving Minnesota for the University of Southern California, it was no small triumph. Although ostensibly planning to be a business major, all the electives Aaron took were in the liberal arts. He achieved a 3.75 GPA, which got no response from his father. Back in St. Paul for the summer, he was put on the payroll. His salary was ominously generous. “A man’s wages,” his father announced grimly. “Time you started acting like one.”

But California’s golden sun had kissed Aaron more deeply than his father could imagine. He was a man, he had proven that, and all the automobiles in St. Paul lined up in a row could never mean as much as Cabiria’s final smile in the Fellini film. Aaron’s life aspiration was fixed: To create a meaningful work of art.

During that summer Aaron did his assigned tasks, but in a desultory fashion. He stayed apart from the other employees, eating lunch at the receiving desk in the back. One Monday he glanced up from a book to see Ray swaggering down the aisle toward him.

“What you reading?” Ray asked, his voice hearty and aggressive. Aaron smiled, remembering the “What you looking at?” of nine years ago.

He held up a paperback copy of The Member of the Wedding, the play version. On the cover was a photo of the three principals from the Broadway show sitting at the eternal kitchen table.

Ray lowered himself on a box. He gestured toward the book.

“I remember seeing that on TV when I was a kid. Same three people. That little dude, he’s dead.”

“Brandon de Wilde.”

“Yeah, that was his name. He couldn’t have been much younger than me when I saw that show. Now he’s long gone. Brandon de Wilde . . . He was in a movie with Paul Newman.”


“Hud. Right. Where Newman tries to stick it to that gal who works for them.”

“Patricia Neal.”

“Right. I read that she had something wrong with her. Brain tumor or something. She dead too?” Ray reached for his pack of cigarettes, extracted it with expertise from his shirt sleeve. “And Newman, he was young, a real dreamboat in that movie, but now he’s an old turkey-necked geezer. Movies show you how damn fast time passes. We’re in our glory for a moment — at least some are — then old, then gone, just like that.”

Seated on the edge of the low box, little legs splayed apart, pointed boots pointing outward, Ray raised a hand to the side of his head and snapped his fingers; a flame appeared. He drew a shiny metal lighter toward the cigarette in his lips.

“Do you ever think about that?” he asked. “Time passing? Or are you too young?”

“Oh, I think about it.”

“Were you in your glory out there in sunny Cal?”

“Something like that.”

“I’ll bet, what with your interests. Yesterday I overheard your father telling Mildred about you wanting to make movies.”

“What’d he say about it?”

“That you were nuts. What you expect him to say? Anyhow, it got me to thinking. Since you know all about movies, I have a question for you. Who am I?”

“Who?” Aaron laughed. “You’re Ray.”

The laugh was a mistake. Ray’s eyes narrowed, his smile took on a mean twist.

“Ray? The Ray who works for your dad? Sells auto parts? Now why the fuck would I ask you that? What I mean is, I was almost in a movie. A big time movie. I’m asking you who it was I almost played.”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know and don’t care, huh? Well, I’ll bring you something tomorrow. Then you’ll understand. Cause for all you know, you don’t know shit. Not about me, you don’t.”

Ray rose, turned and walked off, his departing figure shifting from side to side. Then came a plaintive cry, one uncannily like a boy’s.

“Shane! Don’t go! Come back, Shane.”

The figure disappeared into the shadows.

That’s how he would direct it, Aaron thought, years later. Always have Ray merge into and emerge out of darkness.

The little man briskly materialized the next day, tossing a battered paperback book on Aaron’s desk.

“Ever read that?” He took his place on the low box. The book was In Cold Blood.


“You should. It’s pretty good. Know the story?”

“Two guys murdered this family.”

“Yeah. Four people killed. The Clutter family. So you didn’t see the movie?” I mean the first one, the one they did in the 60's. They made a TV version not too long ago.”

“No. Haven’t seen either of them.” Aaron picked up the book. On a corner of the cover was a splatter of blood in which was written “over 3,500,000 copies sold!”

Ray removed his cigarettes from his sleeve.

“See those two pieces of paper I stuck in there? Read where I marked.”

Aaron read the sections, both descriptions, then his eyes rose to observe Ray. Ray grinned.

“Know who I am now?”

“You’re this guy. You’re Perry.”

“Yeah. Perry Smith. One of the murderers. We’re a match, ain’t we? His legs got fucked up in a motorcycle accident, I was born this way, but it all amounts to the same thing. Both of us crips. And the hair, the build — the two of us dead ringers. We even both have Indian blood. Anyway, when they were gonna make a movie of the book I was living in New York, trying to be a movie star. Yeah, me. I was twenty-five, twenty-six. So they announced open auditions, big ads in Variety calling for two guys to play the killers. Claimed they weren’t interested in using well-known actors. So naturally I tried out. I’ll tell you all about it — starting tomorrow, a story while you eat your lunch, OK? The thing is, I was certain I’d get the part. See, I believed what they were saying to me. But one day I picked up Variety and read that Robert Blake got my part. Hell, he’s just short. And he was never at those auditions. Those auditions, they were just a publicity stunt. A freak show. Robert Blake — Little Beaver in the fucking Red Ryder movies, he’d been in movies all his life. No, they never wanted the real thing. You should rent the movie. A fucking mess. But what can you expect from something that started out as a lie? So, anyway, a few weeks after Little Beaver got my part I came back to St. Paul. . . .” Ray paused, smiled. “You having a problem with this, kid? Seeing me as an aspiring actor in the Village? That’s the trouble with how the young think about old people. You see me a certain way and can’t imagine me any different, because it’s over for me. But you don’t have trouble imagining yourself being some genius director. Another Orson Welles. For you that’s a sure thing. But is it, really? Cause here we are, the two of us, both working in your dad’s store. That’s the only thing that’s a fact. You and me together.” He rose, started off, then turned. “I’m lending you that book. Same copy I had in New York. So take care of it. And don’t advertise it to the world. Comprende?”

When Aaron looked back on that summer he had to admit that he did understand something, even the second time they met. He kept the book hidden from the eyes of all others.

Over the next three days — only three days, a fact that would forever amaze Aaron — Ray visited him at lunch, told him his story. Not artfully, but Aaron could shape the screenplay into a narrative flow, one that had a beginning and an end, with the crucial point being the question that Ray would ask on their final day. In filming it Aaron would have Ray tell some of his story in a long monologue, like the one Bergman used in Persona. Ray would be seated on the low box, the black hair and black T-shirt blending into his recurring motif, darkness. The swarthy face, the smile, the moist eyes, the tendrils of smoke about his head, the powerful arms crossed over his chest.

“Yeah, I was born this way, one of the cards I got dealt — that I’d have to toddle along on these two twisted little bastards all my life. But growing up, in my teens, I was one of those types who overcome their disability. I was the life of the party, even when there wasn’t no party. Loudmouthed, always dressed up in weird outfits, the class clown. Acting like everything was hunky-dory. Oh, I had a lot of acting experience before I ever set foot on a stage. And from the first time I was on a stage it felt like where I belonged. Getting lost up there in a part. All through high school I was in most every play, they’d find a place for me. I had some big roles too — the Stage Manager in Our Town and Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back then I hammed it up, that’s what people expected of me — to be like some toy poodle, wearing a funny hat, dancing on his hind legs. But in a way I didn’t care, not then.

“That changed after high school — and, hey, kid, think about it, that makes me your age. And you know, I see a lot about us, me then and you now, that’s alike. Sure, you’re put together real nice, but I’m talking about other things. Like you wanting to be a director, me an actor. Same thing, basically. Now, I don’t know how bad you want it, but for me it was like this big craving. Me five foot two, and I had this seven foot appetite. Course, I didn’t have no USC to go to. I worked at my brother’s garage — that was another place where I could get lost, under the hood of a car, or lifting weights — but every night I was at one community playhouse or another. No more clowning. I got serious and people took me serious. I played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls. I could sing pretty good — so could Perry Smith, you know — and every night I brought down the house with “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” I got raves as Leroy in The Bad Seed. For other roles too. I’ll bring in the newspaper clippings tomorrow, you can read what the reviewers said about me. But St. Paul and audiences of seventy-five people wasn’t enough for me. So I saved my money till I had a sizable stash and then upped and went to New York.

“The Big Apple . . . Oh, I got taught a lesson in how little I really was — that I was no higher than a pile of dog shit in the eyes of the bastards who make decisions. Though I did find a home for my talents. What they called the experimental theater scene — La Mama, places like that. Lot of queers, they took a liking to me, oohing and aahing over Little Ray. I guess they saw me as a fellow outcast. Anyway, there I was living in the East Village, acting in absolute junk. Hamming it up, the weird outfits again, dying my hair a different color every week. It was like high school — parties, being the clown on and off the stage. And I tell you, after two years I was getting eaten up inside. It felt like being trapped in this place you have to get out of, but there’s no way out. One of those searching nightmares.

“Then one night I was at a party and this queen I knew rushes in and starts shrieking ‘Ray, where’s Ray?’ and waving a book around. ‘Where’s Ray, I must see Ray this very instant!’ And talking about open auditions.

“You know what the book was. I took it home and got to the page where Perry is first described, and after that my whole world concentrated on one person, on Perry Smith. He was me, I was him. I could understand him in a way others couldn’t. Like where he says how it is with us, how one hurt gets piled on top of another til somebody else has to take on some of the load. Which is what happened when he found himself in the Clutter house. It was those four people who took on a good part of his hurt. But an important thing is that if he hadn’t been there he might have lived his whole life without hurting nobody. That’s how it works — all it takes is the right situation to come along. Looking at it that way, and knowing how it turned out, it wasn’t only the Clutters who got murdered that night. Perry Smith and Dick Hitchcock did too. That’s how the movie played it, all teary-eyed for the executed killers. Which is wrong. Because you can understand all you want, but you can’t have sympathy for those two. Because the truth is, people like them ain’t so nice.

“I kept thinking about how I could show it all, practicing reading his lines over and over. Course, I also knew that this was my chance at fame. This time my disadvantage was my advantage. How can I say it all? It was a lot of things wrapped up together.

“I took to making myself look more like Perry Smith.”

Here, Aaron decided, he would end the monologue. It would be better to show the young Ray going through the transformation. The bright, showy clothes replaced by the stark black T-shirt, brown leather windbreaker, pointed boots. Black hair growing in, supplanting the blue. Long sideburns. A snarling, orange-eyed tiger being pricked into the skin of his left biceps. Ray moving with purpose through the streets of the East Village.

But at this point there came an interruption of Ray’s story. On Thursday, when he took his seat on the box, he looked at Aaron’s haggard face and let out a low whistle.

“What’s that I saw going on between you and your dad? After work yesterday? You jawing away at him in the car.”

Aaron’s story, neatly curling itself inside Ray’s, to live and feed there like a parasite.

At the beginning of the summer, on their rides to and from the store, Aaron had spoken to his father about his life at USC. Looking back, he understood that he was asking for approval from the man, still trying to earn his respect. So he casually mentioned the girl, Samantha, and how he had helped her edit a short documentary film, a film that might be shown at the next Sundance Festival. How he had a real talent for editing. How USC had one of the best film schools in the country. How, already, through Sam, he had met important people . . .

But his father had not responded in any way. Aaron too lapsed into silence. At least he had offered up the truth. If his father’s attitude signified a disappointed resignation regarding his only child, Aaron could accept that. Gladly. He gazed stolidly out the window, turning his thoughts toward USC: the vital, creative friends there; L.A.’s nightly panoply of lights; the expectant darkness of a theater. Back at USC, he would declare his major. “Declare.” What a liberating word.

Then came the afternoon when he got into the car and his father passed some papers to Aaron, telling him to sign them.

“They’re to transfer you to the University of Minnesota. What I’ll never understand is how the hell I ever let you and your mother talk me into this California crap. Cost me an arm and a leg, and for what? Sundance Festival, for Christ’s sake. Well, son, I do occasionally make mistakes, but I never let them compound themselves. Come on, let’s get this done, I want to drop it in the mailbox.”

Aaron had never spoken to his father so bitterly. But it gave him no satisfaction. He soon found himself reverting to childishness, even demanding, shrilly, that he be given wages for all the years he had worked without any. His father laughed.

“My father — the drill sergeant! You don’t build character, you destroy it! What you want is for people to be your puppets. That’s the reason Mom divorced you!”

Wincing in mock pain, his father put his hands over his ears. “Son. Please. Not in an enclosed space. This shrieking — either bring your tone of voice down to the level of a man’s or get out of the car.”

Aaron began to open the door, but his father grabbed his arm. His face and grip were stony, his voice low.

“Yes, your noble mother. She’s free as a bird now. Flown the coop, hasn’t she? And seems she’s left you behind. Those papers will be on your dresser when you get home. Either have them signed by tomorrow morning or you’re not going anywhere. Hear? Not one penny from me.”

That night Aaron signed.

Ray nodded.

“If your father says something, he means it. Go to UM. Better than nothing.” Ray lit a cigarette, leaned back, observing Aaron through narrowed eyes. “Remember how I said that we were alike? I was thinking of family life too. Me, I grew up in a nuthouse, got nothing but these legs from my parents. But you ain’t had it so easy. I been knowing your father longer than you have. I’ve seen how he’s treated you, at least since you was a teenager. Oh, we’re not so different. With me it was my legs. But long as your father controls the purse strings, you’re stuck too. That’s your trap, kiddo. Another thing — your father’s not going to accept you the way you are, and that’s kinda like how it was with me, how I wanted the Perry Smith role, but, hey, the world told me to fuck off. That’s the last time I asked anybody for anything. Every night when I turn off the light I say “Fuck you, world,” and every day when I wake up I say the same thing. Keeps me strong, in some way. Been doing it for over thirty years. Ever since the audition.”

A decade later, when Ray was dead (a cancer of the esophagus took him; Aaron, living in Chicago, kept in correspondence with Mildred to learn such news), Aaron began to contemplate the idea for a movie. Although ostensibly about Ray, it would also be the story of Aaron’s life, spanning three decades — from “What you looking at?” to “What you reading?” to the deathbed line Aaron would give to Ray: “Fuck you, world.” The movie would radiate out like jagged spokes from that week of lunchtime talks.

But Aaron found that he was hazy on the details of the auditions, which he planned to have as the swirling centerpiece of his film. Maybe the haziness was due to time, but more likely Aaron had not listened so intently to Ray’s story on that particular day. Instead he had been mentally pacing the cage his father had built for him, called the University of Minnesota. Searching for a way out.

So, to learn about the auditions, Aaron turned to the Internet. But nothing was forthcoming; he soon switched off the computer, lay back in bed and lapsed into his typical inertia. His life was idle, impractical, unmotivated — perhaps his father had been right about him all along. Well, anyway, a director could hire people to find out about the auditions — the where, when, how.

For the time being Aaron could imagine them, in broad strokes. The scene is a gathering outside a theater at the appointed hour, the sidewalks crowded with would-be Perry Smiths, almost all properly attired in leather jackets and jeans, dangerous scowls in place. A lot of shorties, a few dwarfs, some tall fellows in creative slouches. Bottles of black hair dye had been applied, with varying degrees of skill. Some of the men carried guitars. Many eyes lingered uneasily on the person of Ray, the obvious king of this hill.

Mixed in with the Perrys were the dingy-blond Dick Hitchcocks. The other murderer, another odd-looking bird, also the victim of a vehicular accident. His face had been knocked askew, the left side being a shade lower than the right. Eyes, nose, mouth — mismatched. Could the world cough up a replica of him too?

All shuffling in when the door opened, listening to directions from a young man with a clipboard and the haughty, impatient demeanor of an underling in charge. Filling out cards, waiting for their chances to cross the stage to the microphone and speak a few words to the three shadowy figures in the third row. Everybody knew what was going on this day — it was a weeding out. Ray’s card was placed on a slim stack.

What cinematic style to use? Make it a crowded, rococo canvas or take a documentary approach? Whatever, it would play as a comedy. A grotesquerie, with naked ambition as the driving force. A ludicrous contrast was that the auditions were to find two men most convincing as lifetime losers turned cold-blooded killers, but those doing the selecting were people intensely concerned about getting a prominent table at the latest trendy restaurant. This Big Moment in Ray’s life was, as he said, a lie, a freak show. But at the time he not only believed in it, he felt his life aspiration come closer and closer to fulfillment as, over the next month, he moved upward in a progression of steps. He did readings, he saw his competition dwindle to a few Perrys, none of whom were as right as he was. (“This one guy, he was good, he had the legs, but he was at least forty, and Perry was ten years younger than that when he murdered those people.”) Aaron would depict it all, and he’d also show Ray at the East Village parties, the center of attention, fawned over as a soon-to-be star. Aaron recalled Ray telling about a moment late in the game when he sat with the casting director at a conference table in an uptown office, and the man talked about the director’s vision for the film, asking Ray if he saw his part in the same light. Though the man did not speak the final words, Ray left that day believing that he had the role of Perry Smith.

Back to the stock room of an auto parts store. Friday, their last day together. A smile on Ray’s sixty-year-old face. He had smiled throughout his story and he would smile to the end.

“They’d always wind up with ‘We’ll keep in touch,’ but then came the time when they didn’t. My phone just sat there. So after two weeks I started calling them, but everybody was always unavailable — in an all-day meeting or in L.A. or someplace. I kept giving the secretary, this oriental gal, the same message, for someone to call me. But nobody did. I knew what was up. I been feeling it grow in my stomach, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when I opened Variety one day and saw that Robert Blake got the part.”

Aaron would show Ray stopping at a kiosk, buying the paper, opening it . . .

This part of Ray’s account Aaron remembered well. Maybe it was his own recent defeat that caused the words Ray spoke to carry special significance.

“It was over, just like that. No explanation, nothing. All next week I’m in my room or walking the streets, thinking. Then I decide to pay a visit to the office. I ask, nice and polite, to see the casting director — Bruce Sutherland, I can still remember his name — and Tokyo Rose says that he’s out for the rest of the week. So I’m back next Monday morning, all smiles, and she says that he’s in a meeting, and I say I’ll wait, and she says it’s at another location and he won’t be in this office again today. But can I leave a message? And I say no, I’d like to talk to him. I even hang around outside the building. The next day when I go up there, to the eighth floor, she has an envelope for me, my name typed on it. Inside is an index card. I remember the exact words: ‘Some really fine work, Ray, but, ultimately, we were left unconvinced. What we found lacking was an underlying sense of menace, something which is vital for carrying this film. But we sincerely wish you the best in your career.’

“So I read it a couple times, standing there, wondering what Brucie Boy knew about menace, and then I told the secretary that I’d still like to talk to Mr. Sutherland, and she asks why, and I tell her that I want to see how far I can make his tongue stick out of his mouth when I get my hands around his neck. It wasn’t five minutes later that two guys from Security are there, to escort me out. Both six-footers, we must’ve made quite a sight, each of them holding onto one of my arms. In the elevator I clown around, asking how I could get a job like theirs, and if they’re going to boot me into the gutter when we get outside, like in the wild west movies, when they throw someone out of the saloon. And this one guy says, no, they’re going to treat me like the gentleman I am, but that if I come back they’d have to hold me for the police. I say that I won’t be back, that I’m through with show biz, and we all shake hands in the lobby. Two days later, on the train to St. Paul, I reached a way to see it. When they rejected me, Ray, they had really rejected Perry Smith. So it was only fitting.”

Ray lit another cigarette, crossed his legs, gazed reflectively at Aaron.

“Never told that story before. Just to you, kid. . . . Well, I suppose the only thing left to tell is how I got here, in this store. Not that it matters, but when I was back in St. Paul I started working again at my brother’s garage. He was heavy into drugs, basically trying to kill himself. Which he eventually did, and then I ran the place myself, for years, but there were a couple of incidents with dissatisfied customers where it came down to me putting my hands on people. The police were called, that whole scene. So I decided maybe I needed another type of job, one where there wouldn’t be nobody getting in my face. I saw an ad and came to this auto parts store — this very one. It wasn’t open yet, your father was unpacking stock, shelving it, and I could see right off that he didn’t know shit. I mean, there’s a certain way to organize things. So I just started in helping him. That’s how I first met your father. A young man back then, in his twenties, not married yet. Kind of a pretty boy, like you. I showed him how to set things up, plus I knew a lot of mechanics around town. Yeah, I helped him get the business up and running. Not that he’ll give me any credit for it, not your father. And not that I care. This is just a place I come to get a paycheck. I don’t give a damn about this place.

“So that’s it. Story time is over. Oh — you may be wondering about the acting. I never did one bit of it, never again.”

But it was not over, not for Aaron. Ray had a question for him.

For this moment Aaron would have the lights dimmed even more. He would have Ray take a long pause — smiling, contemplating the boy before him, carefully choosing the words he would speak.

“So, listen, kid, I got one question for you. Seeing as how you’re a director — or at least you want to be one. Sure, you’ve run into a snag, but it could be temporary, this setback to your plans. Not like it was with me. So, anyway, they said I wasn’t convincing enough to play Perry Smith. Meaning that I couldn’t have killed those people. But what do you think? You as a director? Do you think I could do it — kill somebody?”

Aaron would also pause. A long, damning pause. How difficult it was, ten years later, to say how calculated his answer was. But even if there was a possibility of something between them, the most plausible interpretation of Ray’s question was that it had no deeper meaning. Only innocent words were being exchanged. So even if Aaron did speak with bitter intent, it was done frivolously.

The extent of his complicity would forever be unclear to Aaron.

“Yes,” he said, looking directly into Ray’s eyes. “You could do it. You’d be my Perry Smith.”

Ray nodded, his smile widening into a grin. He clapped his hands on his knees with finality. He rose and stretched, his big arms flexing voluptuously, then he was gone.

He did not return. For the rest of the summer he never acknowledged Aaron’s existence. The two would never again speak.

Yet at the moment when Ray stretched and then moved into darkness Aaron felt a fearful expectancy descend upon him. He wanted to call Ray back — but why, to say what?

In dreams Aaron would call out to Ray, but no sound would come from his straining mouth.

The uneasy fear and expectation was like a dark clot inside Aaron as he spent his days at the University of Minnesota, not attending classes, dissipating, watching movies. For weeks he could forget it, or ignore it — afraid of what? waiting for what? — but Ray’s face would sometimes rise unexpectedly before him, like a smiling genie emerging in smoke from a bottle.

On a November day, a cold rain falling, Aaron returned to his rooming house to find a message waiting for him. There was a number for him to call, an unfamiliar one, and underneath were scribbled words: “Said it was urgent.”

As he tapped out the eleven digits, hand trembling, he already anticipated where the phone would ring, what the voice would tell him. He even knew the one word he would utter in response: “No.” He wondered if the sound he would make would be convincing, expressing the proper shock and denial. That word — he had tried to call it out again and again, in his dreams, to Ray’s departing figure.

Someone picked up the phone. “Detective Lambert.”

It had indeed been a conspiracy that Aaron had entered into on that Friday. And though it was one unfairly thrust on a boy, he’d have to live the rest of his life with the knowledge of his part in it. Time does not heal all things. Perhaps he was weak, as his father had believed. At any rate, he never recovered enough to become anything, to do anything — nor, with the money he inherited, was there any need to. Even the whole idea for a movie about Ray was just another idle reverie. For one thing, it would be impossible to make, for it would expose things that must remain forever hidden.

There would be no “meaningful work of art” of any kind from Aaron. He wasn’t like Ray, who was ambitious to the end. Just to look at the man, at sixty. Hair still black, body pumped up. Still waiting to play Perry Smith! And he had, not in the Clutter house but in the house that Aaron had grown up in. Sometimes Aaron imagined his father’s words, in his last moments. Always the same words, the ones he had used the first time Ray had looked into his son’s eyes, as the nine-year-old Aaron pressed against his side. But now his father spoke them in rising panic and disbelief.

“Now, Ray!”

Though the reality of those moments had been more mundane. Apparently Ray had acted with workmanlike efficiency. The police commented to Aaron on the lack of clues. Though cash had been taken, there were no indications of a forced entry. There were also no signs of a struggle. The victim had been struck on the back of the head by a blunt instrument, but the actual cause of death was asphyxia.

“Asphyxia?” said Aaron, his lips moving numbly.

“Well . . . Strangulation, actually.”

So Ray had fulfilled his director’s confidence in him. The case moved from “following some promising leads” to “asking the public for any information” to “still under investigation.” Then silence. And Ray never asked for anything in return. He said he never asked anybody for anything. Maybe the role he had gotten to play, at long last, had been enough.