Waffles

 

Sandy Hook, Proving Ground, Military Ordinance, stroke, morningMoments before my first stroke, the first bad one, I was overcome by the smell of waffles and hot syrup, a real olfactory wallop, that starchy essence of seared batter and the sharp carbon zing of scalded sugar. I was sitting at my desk doing nothing special after the Tuesday morning staff meeting, and, bang, there it was. Waffles. And syrup.

I probably haven’t eaten a waffle in forty years. Fifty. Pancakes, either. I never ate like that. Even as a kid, I was a careful eater. I’d eat a bowl of Wheaties or an apple. My father would make waffles, that was his thing, he had about forty minutes of fatherhood a week in him, and he used it up on Sunday mornings, making waffles. He left us when I was eight. My daughter’s like me, a poached egg would be a big deal. Most days, especially toward the end, after Marjorie and me finally called it quits, I got by on a cup of coffee, black, and a Power Bar. Now, of course, it’s a mouthful of juice from one of these devious single-serving containers the nurse has to peel open for me, and a spoonful or two of creamed wheat.

But that smell of waffles, it was so intense; it was like two poles connected by an electrical current over a vast distance, the air cleared by a powerful crackling charge, and then I was on my knees, wedged sideways between desk and chair, stunned and shivering, seeing so suddenly and clearly all the years that have passed while I haven’t done a thing.

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The Bail Bondsman’s Guide to Birds of the American Northeast

 

American Goldfinch

You can’t trust a finch. It’s a songbird. A master of the bait-and-switch. Everything they say is a lie. Always there’s the hidden agenda, the shit they think you don’t know about. If there’s one part of this job that tires me out, it’s the people who come in here thinking they’re smarter than I am. Like I ain’t seen it all. The stop payments. The car in the sister’s name. The guy they know who knows a guy in the prosecutor’s office. Stolen credit cards. A lot of people, they’re better off in a cell. Keeps ’em out of trouble. I run a mostly cash business. It’s easier that way.

Snowy Egret, Birds of the Northeast, migratory, flight riskSnowy Egret

Always a flight risk. Anything migratory like this, anything that calls two places home, it just raises questions. Also, a bird like this, there’s temperament to factor in. A high-strung bird is an unpredictable bird. Unpredictable is anathema in my business. Yeah, anathema. Sometimes I get straight arrows in here, guys just walked into their first heap of shit in their lives. Maybe somebody got hurt in a DWI. Or a shady investment went bad. These people, they got cash, they got collateral up the ass, but they got mobility. Worse, they have no knowledge of the system. They’re subject to irrational fear. Like I said, they’re a flight risk. They’re a boom-or-bust proposition. Most of ’em, if they do flee, they ain’t too hard to find. Life ain’t like the movies. It’s hard for an amateur to hide.

Osprey, predator, bounty hunter, birds of the northeastOsprey

Now we’re talking. The osprey. The fish hawk. The eye in the fucking sky. In nature, you got your prey and you got your predator. An osprey won’t eat squirrels or rats or voles. It just eats fish. It’s specialized. It’s half a mile up and it sees the fish in the sea. Nothing is invisible to it. It’s nature’s bounty hunter. I got two people I work with. Two of the best. They’re like night and day. Dmitry is Russian, he’s got the big arms, the tattoos, the voice like a megaphone. He’s so big, he doesn’t have to worry about fights. Nobody wants to get into it with him. He’s armed like a fucking Transformer. One on the hip, one in the boot, that I know about. Smash and grab. Georgy is a Romanian. He looks like an accountant, like any guy off the street. No muss, no fuss. No scene. He’s on you before you know it; he’s in your head. He’s like a cobra. One second you’re on a log, thinking your mousy thoughts, the next second you’re in the cobra’s belly, wondering what the hell happened. Good guys, Dmitry and Georgy. I tell people, don’t bother doing anything dumb. You don’t want any Dmitry and Georgy trouble. Almost always, they listen. Continue reading

Elevator Pitches of the Damned

 

Elevator Pitches, Book Proposals, Hollywood, Literary Agents, fiction

Your host, in his unfortunate “Inspector Clouseau Period”

 

Justice League of Hollywood

By day they ply their exalted trade as thespians on the world stage, embodying the hopes and dreams of their legions of fans. But when the sound stages go dark and the catering packs up, a select few of the Hollywood elite, endowed with otherworldly powers beyond the ken of common folk, take to the night streets of Hollywood and Beverly Hills (or around the world, as location shooting permits), righting wrongs and battling the forces of evil. George Clooney is Synergio, master of the ancient art of strategic personal branding and wielder of the Knowing Smirk. Gwyneth Paltrow is Hype, able to raise or lower the Q rating of any person on earth, using only the super-kinetic powers of her mind. Taylor Kitsch is Unsealio, capable of opening all manner of  balky condiment jars, child-safe prescription containers and molded plastic anti-theft packaging, with only his bare hands. Blake Lively is Beardra, who, with her all-powerful Penumbra of Femininity, is able to provide even the most transparently gay action-movie hunks with plausible heterosexual romantic cover. Together with Zooey Deschanel as Sophistra, Elf Queen of the Elegant #Humblebrag, this alliance of A-list celebrity superstars faces its greatest challenge when an Iranian terrorist splinter cell, financed by the Saudi royal family, attempts to hijack the western world’s stockpiles of Botox and human growth hormone. Will the Justice League of Hollywood triumph? Or will the world’s unrealistic standards of beauty be compromised?

 

A Race Against Time

See, there’s this guy, he’s a physicist, but way out there on the cosmological fringe, tinkering with theories of special and general relativity, gravitational singularities and such, I won’t get into it except to say it’s totally possible and involves theories of space-time dilation, but anyway, he invents a Time Machine. But the thing is, it turns out that the world’s history is basically hundreds and hundreds of millions of years of not that much, you know? I mean, virtually all of it is inaccessible to the Time Traveler because the atmosphere is mostly CO2, or there’s inland seas or glaciers popping up everywhere. Even if you get a patch of land going, a frigging passing dragonfly is the major event of the week. Human history is a fraction of an eyeblink in time, and even most of that is pretty much empty grass fields of nothing, with occasionally a couple of people sitting on a log, smoking stinky pipes and complaining about the food. It doesn’t take the physicist long to discover that all of human civilization on earth amounts to about 6,000 years, give or take, then a rapid die-off followed by umpteen million years of more seas and glaciers, a handful of inconsequential rodents, then a long, gradually increasing aridity and increase of temperature until the earth is engulfed by the dying sun. So anyway, the physicist eventually moves the Time Machine out to the garage, puts a tarp over it, and takes a tenured job in the physics department at UC Santa Barbara. Continue reading

The View From The Bridge

 

Driscoll Bridge, Garden State Parkway, Raritan Bay, suicideIt was a March day in 2002, one of those hard, cold, gusty afternoons that tasted acrid and coppery in your mouth and reminded you that spring—real spring—was still a ways away.

The trip from Edison back to Monmouth County was all ugly highway, Route 287 east into the maze of on- and off-ramps around the Raritan River toll-road exchanges, then south on the Garden State Parkway. The traffic was typically bumper-to-bumper for miles during the afternoon rush, the roadside a war zone of cast-off vehicular junk and a winter’s worth of crusty white snowmelt dust. The back-up at the foot of the Driscoll Bridge, in which all of the southbound 287 traffic flow was forced to merge into a single access lane, was always particularly hellish.

And so this might have been a Wednesday or a Thursday in March, long into the week but not at the finish line, long into the winter but not yet at the end. The five o’clock sun lingering pale and dingy on the horizon, begrudging its warmth. I was working in the advertising department at an electronics retailer called The Wiz that winter, a low-paying job I’d taken the previous March when I was at a loose end. It was a terrible job, but I wouldn’t be suffering in it much longer. The Wiz had declared bankruptcy in December and would be laying me off on March 31st. I was looking forward to taking my scant four weeks severance and leaving. I was in a something of a career funk, you might say.
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The Slippery Slope of Life: A Handy Clip n’ Save Timeline

 

Hourglass, mortality, old age, time, memory

“This isn’t flying. It’s falling with style.”

                                          –Buzz Lightyear

 

Age 21: Look at you! You’re an adult. Congratulations, you’re on the clock.

Age 22: “I just ousted @TipsyTina69 as mayor of Purple Gator Bar & Grill on @foursquare!”

Age 23: A song/poem/story/painting/playlist you created no longer functions as an acceptable gift for your girlfriend.

Age 24: “This is just a temporary thing, until I figure out what I really want to do with my life.”

Age 25: Missing a day’s work because you went out with your friends and got shitfaced stops being funny.

Age 26: Vacation destinations you can cross off your list: Cancun, Amsterdam, any trip or tour that involves a backpack.

Age 27: Things you can no longer have in your apartment, even in an ironic sense: A futon that you sleep on. Mismatched dishes. A roommate.

Age 28: You will never again walk into a bar and pick up a chick based solely and entirely on how hot you are. Also over: any drink served in a vial, test tube or girl’s navel.

Age 29: That temporary thing you were doing, while keeping your options open? It’s your thing now. The window for a radical career change is closed, unless you’re going to do something weird like become a hospice attendant or a Sea Org Scientologist.

Age 30: The first two items you’ve crossed off your “Essential Qualities in a Perfect Husband” are: A) Has a full head of hair and B) Has a nice car.

Age 31: Dude, put your shirt back on.
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Exercises For Extra Credit

extra credit, college life, exams, Is Anyone Up?, testsTime permitting within the test period, the following exercises may be completed and submitted for extra credit (1 point each).

1. Sally has 3 apples, Shawna has an organically grown grapefruit, Molly has a new Powerpuff Girls pencil case, and Madison’s dad is in substance abuse rehab for the 3rd time in two years. If we assume that your former best-friend Riley has not invited you to her 12th-birthday party (at which, just, everyone else is invited) and you drop Drama Club in favor of getting high with your boyfriend Jayden for most of high school junior year, calculate the rate of change (z) in the encroachment of despair, given that (x) is an essentially useless $200,000 degree in art history from UPenn and (y) is a long-standing and undiagnosed eating disorder.

2. Arrange the following elements according to atomic weight, from smallest to greatest:

a) Radium
b) Helium
c) The inadvisability of mixing Adderall, Ecstasy, and 2 glasses of chardonnay
d) Fluorine
e) The chances of that asshole Kevin posting that photo of you to Is Anyone Up?
f) Germanium
g) The fact that Leah is fucking the Iranian TA in exchange for an A in this class
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Dream State

Dreams, Sandy Hook, sunset, fictionDreams are a cheap device.

When I encounter one in fiction, I know that the author is going to try to “reveal” something about a character without doing any of the heavy lifting that real plotting and character development and dialogue require. The more “structured” the dream is, the worse it is.

Dreams are, by definition, exposition. They’re telling, not showing. At the very least, they’re  a narrative crutch for writers who can’t see their way forward in the plot. When a writer clears the stage of real incident and relationship and cause-and-effect, and starts editorializing about a character’s inner life by using brain-chemical shadow play, I’ll start skipping ahead. Tell me what’s really happening, I’ll say, not some free-associational aside functioning as a story-telling convenience.
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Top 10 Heartwarming Christmas Classics!

 

The holidays are upon us again and we’re abuzz with Yuletide spirit here at the EZED. When December rolls around, we like nothing better than sliding a turkey/stuffing/mashed potato TV dinner into the microwave, popping open a 40-oz bottle of Miller High Life, and warming up the old VCR for a long night of nostalgic seasonal classics. Let’s see what’s in the Christmas queue!

Black Christmas, Margot KidderBlack Christmas (1974)

Whoa, hey, don’t go in the attic, little Cindy-Lou Who! The original “The calls are coming from inside the house!” movie, predating When A Stranger Calls by five years, Black Christmas makes the most of the fact that a sorority house is a pretty lonely place to be on Christmas Eve. There are plenty of evocative shots of departing revelers, abandoned campus greens, and long empty hallways here, as the approach of the holiday is marked by a deeper and deeper silence. And the ringing of the phone. The weird, unhinged quality of the obscene phone calls is what most people remember (grunts, animal shrieks, taunts, and the sound of a little girl crying), but Margot Kidder’s performance, as she drinks herself silly, makes inappropriate remarks, and stumbles around while her few remaining sorority sisters meet gruesome ends, is fun, too. Avoid the recent remake.

The Ice Harvest

Based on Scott Phillips’ terrific crime noir novel, this one stars John Cusack as a mob lawyer who just can’t seem to get out of town on Christmas Eve with the $2 million he’s embezzled from his cold-blooded clients. The delight here is in watching Charlie Arglist (Cusack) drive around and around snowbound Wichita, Kansas, fucking over and being fucked over by his shady companions. The Ice Harvest also includes one of Yuletide cinema’s most wince-inducing scenes: the one in which Arglist buys gifts for his estranged kids ($1.49 shrink-wrapped plastic junk from a 24-hour bodega) in the small hours of Christmas Day, as part of an ill-conceived plan to gain access to his ex-wife’s house. Oh, and another one: Christmas Eve at Wichita’s most dismal titty bar.
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Old People Just Want To Have Fun: The Top 15 Tracks of 2011

Hey, where’d the year go? As previously, the songs here are presented in no particular order and are selected by referring solely to the digit in the “Plays” column in My iTunes library. Thus, if I played it a lot on my iPod in 2011, it’s here. If I didn’t, it’s not. No ringers, no false aspirations to what I “should” have been listening to. All ice cream, no broccoli. Also, as previously, the song title next to the album cover is a YouTube link to the song.

Oh, and here’s the entire playlist, compiled for your listening pleasure,
now playing @Spotify: http://spoti.fi/rzUNJa

 

Slave Ambient, Kurt Vile, Smoke Ring For My Halo, KraftwerkBest Night / The War On Drugs

The genius of The War On Drugs lies in the rural-urban esthetic of taking an earnest, observant, heartland-evocative vocal (provided by bandleader and Bob Dylan fanboy Adam Granduciel) and harnessing it to a precision-machined motorik synthbeat worthy of Trans-Europe Express. It’s been done before, of course, most notably on Grandaddy’s 2000 opus  The Sophtware Slump, but here you really get that wide-open-spaces sensation without the luxury-class travel vibe. “Best Night,” the first track on the record, is the ideal soundtrack for watching the countryside clip by through a bus window, even if the bus is just the shuttle from the Rutgers Athletic Center to High Point Solutions Stadium.

Blank Mass, Fuck Buttons, Land Disasters, Benjamin John PowerLand Disasters / Blanck Mass

Blanck Mass is the solo side project of Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons. This song has been a staple of my evening runs along the Jersey Shore, at Sandy Hook and Island Beach, ever since it appeared in June. Everything on the self-titled debut from Blanck Mass is amazing, but “Land Disasters,” which booms into being at 0:01 in full skyward trajectory and then soars ecstatically upward in vast cathedrals of sound from there, may be the greatest song ever recorded for running along the sea as the sun slips below the horizon.
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A Hill Of Sand

Oak, Acorn, Childhood, Memories, Growing UpA few weeks ago, I visited an old friend and we watched the Eagles-Giants game together. The Giants played well and came away with a surprising victory on the road in Lincoln Financial Field. I see this guy once a year; he’s the last person I know in the town I lived in from age ten until I went away to college.

After the game, I took the long way back through town to Route 80 East, so that I might drive past the house I grew up in. The house is on a remote street in an area of densely wooded hills above the lake that gives the town its name. The short street, called a “trail,” like all the roads around it, isn’t a thoroughfare to anywhere else. If you’re driving on it, you’re visiting someone or something on the street. I drove slowly up a steep incline, saw the old house at the top, and saw, too, that the people next door were having a garage sale. This gave me an excuse to pull into my family’s former driveway, look up at the house for a moment, then back out and ease the car up to the house next door. I killed the engine and got out.

The garage sale people were a couple in their late twenties or early thirties with two kids, one on a small bicycle and the other an infant propped up in one of those ExerSaucer play centers. The wife was sitting on the steps by the front door. It was early evening, not quite 6pm, but it was September so there was still plenty of light.

“You saw one of our signs,” the woman said. “You’re one of the very few.”
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