(from May 2018)


Legacy Systems…………Old Material that’s Hard to Convert and Harder to Delete


Take Offline……….Cooling period

It is What It Is……….Crap


Drill Down……….Add detail


Scalable……….Not much ripple effect

Get Buy-In……….Land an Agent

Core Competence……….Syntax


Kudos……….Your piece has been accepted

Hats Off……….Honorable Mention

Stay the Course……….Keep writing where you left off

Core Values……….(too preposterous a phrase even for writers)

Lots of Moving Parts……….Too many stories in one

Bleeding Edge……….Experimental fiction

Move the Needle……….Surprise Twist

Define Target Audience…………Know your Reader



Roles & Responsibilities…………Character traits & motives

Value-Add…………Meaningful or Resonant Content

Measurable Objectives…………Intent

Post Test…………Critics

Task Analysis…………Synopsis

Process Engineering…………Structure


Example Scenarios…………What-If?

Quality Control…………Proofread

Levels 1, 2 and 3…………Dramatic Arcs, Action Scenes, Detailed Imagery

Reset…………Stop and Fix

Roughly Right…………Second Draft

NOTE: …………Author Intrusion

The Toluca Crime Report


Short story collection available on AMAZON  

Copyright ©2013-2015 by William P. Moore

Originally published as “Circular Afternoons” in 2009 and revised with one replacement story. Several pieces are set in Mexico, including the title story about an excursion to the Toluca marketplace. Other topics are wide-ranging, from blind love and domestic terror to sailboat romance to an imaginary game of eight-ball with Norman Mailer.

Short Stories: “Parts Department”

Paperback is for sale on Amazon. Also available as a Kindle.


Nine short fiction pieces – a mix of dark humor with a dash of surrealism. Souls adrift, the blues, and the underlying quest for home and happiness.



NOTES ABOUT THE 9 STORIES … from the author William P. Moore

1  Bayberry is a wayward character long-held in a dusty trunk, a figment on faded typing paper. In this short piece, he’s cut to size and freed to the public page, along with my abstract attempts to describe Key West.

2 – Written in appreciation of Hemingway’s “After the Storm.” I had an idea of layering, and humans living in husks or shells like a Russian doll. I use a squabbled-over domestic treasure as opposed to a sunken ocean liner.

3  “Advanced Level of Play” could have been more about Masked Man but the road led to video games and to Stan Birchard, a reclusive resident from Oceanaire, who crosses over from that novel (as do one or two others in later stories).

4 – “Along the Fall Line” is based on a vision of a pretty young woman on rollerblades, like once were in SoBe. Having the story take place in Columbia, SC was the biggest leap. The theme of “fall from grace” fit the river geography and is resonant to the storyline.

5 – “Orange Bowl Days” is an attempt is to make memorable characters in captured moments…odd moments, like Ulyanna in the bathtub studying a pharmacology book.

6 – The next two stories are tied via Teri and her mother Anna and crazy father John. As gloomy as they are, maybe some will see humor.  The niece character Shannon is a reimagined representation of a girl I knew when a teenager in Sandbridge, VA who lived in her aunt’s house that summer.

7 – Is mercifully short. A shot, so to speak, at Southern Grotesque. I liked the name of Soso as a town. Visions of a place like Soso (plus a real-life drive to Aiken on a bleak country highway) started the whole setting. The ruined scenery evoked an atmosphere of mediocrity and nihilism.

8 – “Blue Chile” takes place in an imagined version of that country. It is a morality play of sorts, involving faith, situational ethics, religion, and even a bit of sibling rivalry. 

9 – The last piece is a New Orleans vignette, a slice from an abandoned sequel. This story also has character intersections with other stories and novels. Those sort of ties matter to me, but I don’t expect readers to realize the connections; at best they raise curiosity.


A Brief Look at “Catch-22”

I was never in the military but I grew up in a military town and knew friends who were directly or indirectly part of it. In the 1970s this was the book of choice for them. They spoke enthusiastically about it, saying it was “so true,” even if they did qualify the statement by labeling it as after all fiction, but a scarily real and funny portrayal of how things are. It’s largely a guy book. One of the last good ones.

War is evil, other novels tell us. Or noble. Or unjust, inevitable and pitiful. Or cruel to the women who lose out because of it. The author and cast of Catch-22 imply that while all of that may be true, we’re not really getting into all that. We’re focusing on the absurdity of war and its horrors and how ridiculously inept and comical the military structure is set up to handle it. Here, the higher ranking officers are the bad guys, the no-good bums who bungle things and are lost in their own vanities. The B-25 flight crews, forced to make an increasing number of combat missions, are the pawns and the victims. Or in some cases accidental heroes.

The book is episodic and relies on an intertwined collection of interactions between various members in the flight squadron. Because these relationships are ultimately one in the face of battling the enemy, Heller repeats and reiterates the factors in these relationships. As pages go by, we learn our level of sympathy or disdain for each character, and there are some gems. Near the end, we see the evil in the high-ranking officers emerge, as the despicable (and morally blind) colonels compromise the hero Yossarian, which pushes him over the edge and sends him packing into the unknown.

Norman Mailer’s “Gospel According to the Son”

Only Mailer had the literary audacity to write a novel that presents the “Greatest Story Ever Told” in 1st person Jesus. We get to read him speaking as a human, this plain carpenter and purported Son of God who broods with anecdotes about his birthright, and ruminates over his own flaws in contrast to the expectations put upon him. This personal narrative voice is distinctly different from the entrenched 3rd person accounts of a perfect and divine Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels according to his top-dog apostles, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Mailer presents the geography and the people with prose mostly free of enigmatic rhetoric. Scenes we all know well, such as conception or manger scene, are easy pickings for Mailer. He brings them alive on the page without flowery verse and stiff vocabulary musty with history and biblical stylistic haze. Even to an agnostic reader, this rendition of the Miracle Story is illuminating, educational, and engaging to read.

With the Devil leading the dialogue department, Mailer portrays Jesus’s meetup with him in the wilderness near the end of J’s 40-day fast. Old Mephisto appears several times, nagging the conscience of The Chosen One.

Mailer creates a heightened role for John the Baptist, who’s a sort of Jesus forerunner, depicting his teachings and influence, his baptism of J in the Jordan, and eventually his imprisonment and death by the hands of the Herod administration. John’s severed head is delivered to the King on a silver platter while Salome dances.

Mailer doesn’t go too far astray in his language. Much is paraphrasing, and he avoids sarcasm and modern lingo.

The first exorcism (vivid) and other various miracles performed are often described in terms of their draining effect on J, who constantly frets over proper appropriation of his super-energies. He tries to protect them, while the mass’s demands and the scribe paparazzi pursue him. A mere unwanted touch of the robe leaves him gassed.

Mailer ratchets up the suspense with a buildup of fear and resentment against J, who flees to hideaways like a shepherd’s shack and then a boat in the Sea of Galilee where he manages to preach in sort of a floating pulpit.

The story picks up pace and intrigue as Jesus selects and grooms his “cabinet” of twelve apostles. He has Personnel problems. Jesus commands them to spread the word and rations them on slivers of bread, so the guys argue about food and develop a “what’s in it for me?” attitude. Finally, Jesus manages to get them under control and on the road to Jerusalem.

There, they display radicalism going into the temple. Defiance of convention. Jesus dresses down the Pharisee moneylenders and wealthy merchants as greedy agents of Mammon. He matches wits with the Master of the Temple, whose name is not provided. There is plenty of angst among the group, as Jesus continues to play things fast and loose with the Romans.

Since Jesus is a clairvoyant at this point and already knows his and others’ fate, the starch comes out of his narration and he hurries toward the crucifixion.

Jesus is humbled by and often at odds with the Father. The question looms as the unhappy ending occurs: Does Jesus eventually fail his Father? Or vice versa? And was the resurrection story a bit of improvised feel-good coverup for a divine tragedy?

“Florida” by Lauren Groff

I’d likely have a more favorable opinion of this book of short stories had she given it a title other than “Florida.” The stories that are actually set in Florida reveal few features of the state that have not been harped on and exploited before, or features that could be anywhere. Maybe the title came from a designated period in her writing life, being a FL resident and teacher and writer up in the northern central part of the state, where perhaps she wrote and bundled these stories and sees them as her “Florida” experience. Which is fine, but is the material representative of the state as a whole? No.

Ubiquitous reptiles, lurking gators, bugs, heat, and lots and lots of snakes. Yes. Stereotypical, but okay.

Hard times, odd characters, crazy-ass rainstorms. Yes. Okay. (although the best storm description occurs in Brazil (in “Salvador”).

Degenerate husbands and other male losers. To the point of grinding an axe. No. Please don’t identify my state with that sort of stuff.

Women being self-reliant and heroic (and adoring of children). Well, okay, but not when it’s excessive and at the price of all those “male losers.”

Mechanically, Lauren Groff writes like a seasoned craftsman. She weaves some great sentences into engaging sequences. She can build a great story. Problem is, some of her FL stories stop cold when they should keep going. Readers are left in the lurch at odd moments. Even so, the book – grim as it is – leaves impressions and causes an imaginative stir, at least in this reader.

Bad title is not a big deal. After all it’s only a book of short stories. Writers can find their fame more often by producing a good novel rather than in placing hyper-realism stories in the New Yorker. Believing this to be true with Groff (and always rooting for writers in Florida), I’m looking forward to reading her newest novel, “Matrix.”

Books About Crazy People

….Some unorganized comments about three or four books I recently read or re-read (maybe the sixth time for Catcher). They came across my nightstand one after another. All of them, coincidentally (or maybe by subconscious choice), portray craziness.

The trend began with Jonathon Franzen’s new novel, Crossroads. By comparison to the other books mentioned here, Crossroads is a very mild trip. The craziness in his cast of Middle American church-going suburbanites is less visible, cloaked by appearances. Being whacked out to one degree or another is typical. As such, one is subject to mistakes and exposure within a close community of other whackos. Franzen’s skill as a writer here is in showing how insidious and damaging hidden problems can be. It’s a systemic sort of craziness.

More specifically, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is loaded with personal neurosis and dangerous self-destructive behavior. In his monologue Holden points out many parts of life that he calls phony. He goes crazy trying to deal with phony people and all the harsh and bogus aspects of the world. His diatribes often echo what many of us have also considered true. There is an undercurrent wish of “if only things weren’t this way.” The irony is heavy: how can someone depressed and alienated be such an astute observer and seem so right? He scares the bejeezus out of us with his erratic and risky choices. He encounters what he had hoped to avoid by running loose and leaping recklessly into the very depths of American crazinesss.

Carlos Castaneda’s landmark account Journey to Ixtlan is like a condensed primer to his series of seven books about the narrator’s apprenticeship to the sorcerer Don Juan Matus. Don Juan is a philosophic genius, teacher, magic man, and also flat-out crazy by normal standards. His instructions to disassemble our own conventional lives and put ourselves into some sort of neutral fog require a willingness to be crazy. The narrator begins as a logical research scholar and is inexorably pulled into the exercises and tenets. He questions his own sanity.

Squeeze Me is a contemporary novel by Carl Hiassen, noted for his satiric descriptions of deranged life in Florida. (Florida is likely to never recover from the tag as America’s ultimate haven of crazy people.) The target in Squeeze Me is Palm Beach high society, where the decadent rich exist outside reality and hide behind piles of money. The plot enables Hiassen to take well-deserved potshots at the crass and corrupt, as well as zing the craziest fucker of them all, the ex-POTUS, who operates now out of Casa Bellicosa (aka in the real world as Mar-Lago).

I like all of these books a great deal. But am currently searching for a book that features sane people.

Fall 2021 Blogathon: Franzen’s “Crossroads”

[On-going w/the most recent posts last. Spoiler alerts apply]

Oct. 16

The opening chapter and its slow unraveling of family description brings to mind the novel “The Corrections.” There, Franzen gave each sibling from the Lambert family their own volume within the multi-part novel. There were two sons and a daughter, all young career-working adults. Whereas in “Crossroads,” the siblings of the Hildebrandt clan are teenage and below, growing up in the 1970s, and we are introduced to them in sequential chapters. There is one daughter (homecoming queen-type Becky) and three sons, two of whom are in trouble already with drugs and poor life choices.

A problem right off is they are the children of a pastor, Russ, a strong socially active liberal who has a weak innate sense of guidance and self-control. As the story goes in the early stages, the kids drift away from Dad and his older ways, a human turnoff, and become followers of a progressive church group leader named Ambrose, who practices realism over idealism. It doesn’t take long for conflicts to show up.

The opening chapter’s style is notable in that it’s framed artfully within the context of an oncoming storm. Gray clouds at first then ominous snow falling at the end. The storm keeps brewing into subsequent chapters. Becky is changing her ways, demonstrating how imperfect she is, how possessive and self-centered. Perry is wasting his high IQ and drifting deeper into drugs; and Clem is 18 and headed to the Vietnam war zone, after having been addicted to sex with a “mouse” of a girl who he abandons. The parents are pious on the surface and morally unstable underneath. Mama Marion hovers but tends to overlook. Only young Judson seems safe so far.

Things are about to break apart. Everyone is looking for wrong or right, approaching or in the midst of a crossroads, get it? The sun is ripping red gashes in the sky. The Crossroads church group has a mutiny during an Arizona field trip, and father and son face some truths. Patiently and without a load of purple prose, Franzen has revealed a family slowly becoming embroiled in crisis. Yet it’s early. It’s a long book, and only the first of a projected trilogy covering a generation of Hildebrandts.

Oct. 19

The pastor’s wife’s (Marion) chapter uses the narrative format of a discussion between patient and psychiatrist. Her long, self-pitying accounts are met with a few neutral lines from Sophie, the head doctor. Lots of pain is accounted for, with a hint of even more still under the wraps. The world is tainted by Marion’s desperation and pessimism. There is little humor in the exchange, much less a friendly vibe or even an intimate one, unlike, say, the sexual romp that develops in the patient-pyschologist setup in Larry McMurtry’s novel Duane’s Depressed.

Franzen, God bless him, is hitting his novelist’s stride now, delving into the personal history of one of his main suburban characters, presenting her case and allowing the reader to reach their own judgments. It’s more difficult to do than it sounds. He is a novelist following his heart and gut about these people, baring them rather than drawing and delivering pat, intellectual profiles.

More stabs of pain and misery come again in the subsequent chapter in which Russ, Marion’s husband, finds he can’t cope with the frank revelations by his wannabe mistress. He’s in a game he isn’t equipped for. Hints of more moral catastrophe. The scene becomes hellish. The two are quarreling inside Russ’ sedan, and soon we are half-expecting to see Russ break down and weep. Or will he feign bravado and put on a different kind of act? Yet to be seen. Meanwhile for the two would-be lovers, there’s no convenient means of dodging issues, and beyond the wiper blades the snow continues to fall.

Franzen’s instincts may have told him it’s time for a lighter, sillier chapter. And we get that next with Tanner and Becky giving us a flat and predictably schmaltzy episode of Teenagers Playing Little Games about Love. Snowballs hurled by “juvies” against Tanner’s VW bus don’t add much. The dialog is MST3000 material, ripe for lampooning. Tanner talks big boy garage band talk, and Becky is jealous of their female singer. Zzzz. One wonders if Franzen is going to suddenly go horror movie on us and send in hungry zombies to eat the teenagers and end the scene.

Becky says it herself: “Everything has gone to shit.” Her return to the house (aka “the parsonage”) offers some redemption for the sin of bad editing. She and Perry seem to come to a lukewarm detente in their conflicting sister-brother relationship. Meanwhile, in two days it’ll be Christmas Eve. And Mom (Marion) is late returning from her shrink appointment. Uh-oh. Why?

Visions of this novel as a series on Streaming TV disturbed my fictive dream, at least for a moment. Please God, no, I prayed. Tell us the author is virtuous, if none of his cast are, and he doesn’t care about such commercial notions.

Oct. 20

As expected, the dramatic events intersect, and all sorts of tangled problems occur. We are given a buffet of respect-resentment and love-hate between characters in conflict. People play some dirty games to put down those they don’t like. Our emotional response, the one Franzen artfully evokes, is to feel like we need to choose which side we are on. And, we wonder, does virtue matter or is goodness just plain out of date? Does renunciation equate to evil?

Russ vs. Frances Cottrell. Perry vs. Becky. Then Perry vs. astounded clergymen at a mannered party when he gets teenage drunk on a whisky-laden punchbowl and has a meltdown (a superior Franzen twist, reminding me of the crazy effects of the miracle drug aboard the cruise ship in Corrections.) Then Becky gets stoned, and Laura bullies her. Becky sees the light of heaven when the pot kicks in. Mama Marion changes her ways, smokes Luckies, and toughens up. And so on.

The narrative lures us ahead, episode by episode. Even when we find some of the people loathsome, or the scenes didactic and corny. The novel offers us situations where the message of literature battles with its like-ability. Yet on we go, some Christian chord perhaps struck inside us. But how bogus is it? What is wrong? Is it all so gravity-bound to church camps and horny pastors and earthly fools that we miss the entire point of a God up there in the sky?


Oct. 22

3/4 of the way through this heavy tome. In the story there is nearly a foot of snow on the ground. Meaning, I’d lost sense of how compressed the timeline is. Flakes fell in chapter one. There’s been a lot of chapter shifts and overlap of chronological piece parts.

Events are colliding and reaching combustion. Russ, Marion, and Becky have traded their virtues for self-satisfaction. They are clawing against the side of a cliff, trying to hold on.

Instances of Christian fellowship abound, and now Franzen kicks it up another level to moments of bible story parallels. The washing of feet is a big one. The duping of a man by a designing woman, check. Sacrifice of self for another, check. The wages of sin, check. Turn the other cheek, check. Love and forgiveness, check. And so on. It may sound facile, and at times reading it is like a dip into some TV show sanctioned for its wholesomeness and message. But Franzen is up to something else, it seems. Knowing this is part one of a trilogy leads me to suspect we may be left hanging, at least on certain items.


Oct. 24

Marion’s new compulsion for Lucky Strikes emulates the self-destructive behavior of her children and signifies her revolt against the twenty conventional and unhappy years she’s spent being married to Russ. Her actions lean toward anger and self-forgiveness rather than liberation. The family is now officially broken. Some friends are going down with it. They turn to prayer for self-therapy. The sense of worship is lacking. God is like a Hotline.

It’s quite a crew. Russ wants to correct or punish everyone else out of line except himself. Clem pretends to go back to college and then decides to take off to New Orleans. Perry breaks his vow of giving up recreational drugs and finds a dealer offering speed. Becky offers herself to an influencer so that Tanner’s band can get a contract. Laura Dobronsky is the only free-spirit hippie-like character Franzen portrays (the other hippies are shown as communal enclave types who are faceless and benign and unaddressed by the narrative). Laura D is a natural talent in the band, but after Tanner betrays her, she’s leaving the hippie house where she is staying and packing to go West to make the Haight-Ashbury scene. A big whoopdedoo ensues about whether or not the band unites for the big show. Meanwhile, Marion is fasting to get thin again, smoking and cursing now, and disses Russ openly every chance she gets. Russ is pitifully head over heels about Frances, but she is toying with him. He is blind. It is possible in a novel loaded with bible lore, someone will make him see. Frances’ motives are as yet unclear. Meanwhile young and innocent Judson (he might be really something in the later books) is locked into his Stratego board game, planning his next moves far in advance.


Oct. 25

It’s awkward. About 40 pages of backstory interrupt the narrative train’s immediate journey into the last scenes. I waded through some of Russ’s history then skipped it, in order to get back to the drama. Pastor Russ (emerging now as the protagonist) has Frances alone as his partner, at last. The once-meek Russ develops as a character, we can assume, because he is now more assertive and devil-may-care. The indication is that Marion was a source of serious emasculation all those years, and Frances brings out his manly mojo. Do his actions seem a little too full of bravado? And isn’t he the rare, exceptional male character in novel-land who doesn’t fail and come up short when he finally makes it with the woman of his dreams? Instead, it is her who has problems: she’s too tight to let him in.

As a patient reader since all these 500 pages or so, I’m feeling a bit manipulated. There are still some pages left, but the turn from jerk to macho hero seems too much to readily accept.


Oct. 26

The last section summarizes how family members keep their heads barely above water and find a temporary peace. Knowing there is a sequel (and then a third) influences the way I look at the ending. Setup or wrap? There are loose ends and some gaps I’d guess Franzen will enjoy going back to fill for us (e.g., Russ and Frances’s affair). I was unmoved by the reunion of Becky and her brother Clem. She is married to Tanner and they have little Gracie now. Ho hum. I am not bummed out by the fall of failed drug dealer Perry into detention centers and courtrooms. We see Russ break down again (loses his hero points). He and Marion reconcile (apparently because she gets horny) and move to deeper into middle America suburbia, once again as prayerful pastor hubby and pastor’s wife.

There is for me no wow factor at the end, no strong feeling of anything. The only scene that widened my eyes was Becky being transported in a Benz at warp-Autobahn speeds.

All told, it’s a novel that features characters and family dynamics. Capturing an era is not really the big show here. The backdrop is not sparkling in detail, even if the scenes of drug-partaking are vivid and realistic. There are references to pop songs and products of the times, automobiles and clothing etc., but Crossroads is not a depiction of the early 70s and its on-going cultural revolution with longhairs and hippies. The Hildebrandt kids are suburban-cut blanks that get tainted by the wilder and more sordid world around them. But they are not at heart peaceniks or beatniks or paradigm-changers like so many of the others. They are churchy and square. Vain and begrudging. The parents are hardly role models. They are tired of each other, punitive toward the kids, and in a no-win situation against the Rick Ambroses of the world.

Many will write of the Christianity aspects, and I have only alluded to a few. Is the religious theme a subject of satire, or a warning, or an objective presentation left for us to weigh? A bit of all, I think.

Now it’s over and the dust settles until the second book comes out. My bet is Franzen still has something more sensational up his sleeve. Like many fans, I’ll be there for the next one.



It’s a genre I had never heard of, but the structural soul of this novel. A popular haibun by the revered Japanese poet Matsuo Bashó shares nearly the same exact title.

A haibun, from what I’ve learned so far, is based on the reporting of history. But it also contains imagistic writing, poetic material in some way intensely expressed like haiku yet in prose. It can relate a journey, a life saga, or even minutes, a moment. While Flanagan’s book is kindred in spirit and has these elements, it is first and foremost a novel.

Which includes in this case, a story of war and being a prisoner thereof. Aussie prisoners in WWII are enslaved by the Japanese army and forced to build a railroad through an impossible jungle, all in the name of the Great Emperor. The novel includes accounts from the days both before and after war. Near the climactic end, the protagonist is assumed dead. But no, he has survived his long, grueling trip (Spoiler Alert) and becomes a renowned international physician. Back home in Australia, married and settled, he happens to see the woman he once loved. She has seen him too, we find out later. Neither knows, neither acknowledges. The man’s heart is reaching an end, like Zhivago sighting Lara from a bus. She is ill. The two pass by on a bridge, going in opposite directions. It is all part of the tragedy.

Flanagan’s account is wrapped around, no – it features, such an extraordinary love story. It’s delivered to us in unapproachably vivid scenes with simple yet complex writing (like a haiku). It is the best writing of a love affair written by a male author that I can recall in a very long time.


I grew up in Norfolk, Virginia and went to Granby High School then to University of Richmond for two years until I transferred to the University of South Carolina. I graduated with a BA in English Literature. I’ve taken fiction & writing courses at Rice, UNC, and by distance learning from the U. Iowa Workshop.

For over 35 years I worked as an information technologist and instructional media designer for various large corporations in NC, TX, and FL.

I’ve written several books (Amazon author page). My writing has appeared in print and online in various literary journals. Back in 2003-2009 I founded and was editor of an online literary zine called 3711Atlantic. I’m on LinkedIn.

reach me at:  wpmfla at gmail



Last Notes: Richard Flanagan’s “Gould’s Book of Fish”

Dec. 5, 2020

Now that I finished it, I can say that what comes first later comes last. Throughout the book, the narrator speaks of time being more circular than linear and demonstrates it when all is said and done.

My conclusion is at the end of the post.

The opening chapter’s skillful language drew me right in. I wanted to find out about the narrator’s mind-altering and enthusiastic reaction over a book on fish, which he plans to duly explain to us. It’s apparent we are in for something out of the ordinary.

Syd Barrett (one of many aliases for the narrator) is a huckster antique dealer who happens on a magical book on fish and becomes obsessed with it. After making serious inquiries of its origin and shopping it to the experts, he is discouraged by their disinterested reaction and ends up hanging around a bar where he loses the book when he steps away to take a leak. Immediately he compares the loss to the desertion of a lover: the one that ripped your heart out, leaving a contagion to find her again. Our narrator seems a sensible sort, however, and eventually attempts to overcome the loss by re-creating the book, using the pictures of a second similar book, which he happened upon but which has no prose.

The story has a sudden section shift, and there’s a new narrator. Now, apparently, the Fish book will be given its full history, as narrated by the author/artist William “Billy” Gould. He’s held prisoner in a coastal cave that fills with sea water to near ceiling level when the tide comes in. During the day when he’s not being abused by the guard, Gould draws and paints all the marine life around him. That much is sanctioned by his captors, but he is forbidden from writing text of any sort. He does so on the sly, using any colored substance including blood and octopus goo that functions as ink.

Continued 11/18/20

Various despots come in and out of Billy’s life on the island. He is only too glad to consent to do painting at their bidding, thereby avoiding the worst of prison life. By far the strangest character who orders him around is the Commandant, a shipwrecked pretender to his role as grand master of the island. His minions build a locomotive from shipped parts and lays out a railway that runs in one small circle, then commissions a grand MahJong Hall as the national palace, where Billy Gould paints the walls with the words from the Commandant’s unseen love and pen pal, Anne.

Eventually Billy’s painting and labors of mural art in both the train station and the Mah Jong Hall fall to ruin, as nature takes over during a lull in construction. An outside nation comes in to buy the guano deposits.

He goes back to painting fish, fretful of their future existence. Billy Gould is a visionary of the sterile and loveless world we are all heading into (though he sees it from the 19th century, and we see it likely too late).

Continued 11/29/20

Over the next hundred pages, we see Gould’s exciting discoveries of a secret room holding an enormous library of documentation, tirelessly hand-written and assembled by Jorgensen, the island clerk. Billy Gould eventually kills him by pushing over a bookcase. He is stuck in his cell with the decaying body until he escapes (thanks to robbing Jorgensen’s corpse of its money) the Sarah Island colony and journeys alone into the interior, pulling the island’s volumes of history in a sled behind him. So we see poor Gould bearing the brunt of history and all its human indignities. He retains hope that all their truths will fall into the right hands, and the scandals of the island revealed for posterity. He travels relentlessly to seek out the Tasmanian territory’s rebel liberator, Matt Brady.

In the novel’s most vivid scene, Gould is sleeping in the wilderness with aborigines, two of whom he knows from the past. The man is dying of wounds and disease, and the woman is “Two Penny Sal,” a striking mulatto who was once his (and many others’) courtesan. When the man, Tracker John, dies in his sleep in the middle of the night, the woman builds a bonfire fueled largely by Gould’s sled-full of history books. Much to Gould’s shock, the past and its pages of history he dragged cross-country are quickly destroyed. Sparks of dust and nothingness rise into the desert skies, while the woman and Gould strip naked, apply ochre paint, and dance like savages well into the night.

They separate, and Gould finds shelter in a hut, where (as it turns out) Brady once lived. He is disappointed on finding Brady’s journal, as to its shallow content and trifling concerns. It is a hollowing out of his soul, and he feels as if he has nothing left to live for.

In Conclusion

I realize I have repeated too much of the storyline rather than commenting on it, so will not get into the ending which comes in one stunning revelation after another and is best left unsaid.

In sum, Richard Flanagan has written a masterpiece. Who would think that from an Aussie author from Tasmania? It’s a mix of all sorts of influences from Vonnegut to Sterne to Dickens to Pliny and DeQuincey and Voltaire and Fielding. It is as unrelentingly violent as the film “The Revenant’ but with a humorous filter. It is part Gabriel Garcia-Marquez in that reality ventures off into the impossible and fantastic. It is philosophy and comedy, tragedy and history.

Submicroscopic Reading Material

During my career I wrote many procedure manuals, and ever since have noticed how small or non-existent they are. I’m always on the lookout for the “The World’s Smallest Printed Procedure Manual.”  

The text and diagrams inside this one are unreadable without a magnifying glass, which of course is not supplied by the product owner, ANKER. The product is an emergency iphone charger.

Running Commentary, Reading Arundhati Roy

Notes from my slow, on-going read of Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things.”

  1. So far, the book is showing signs of time-skipping. Events move backwards in the chronology from effect to cause. As with the twins, once separated and now united, then nope, they’re actually not–we’re going back to when they were kids next.  Roy used some non-sequential sections to great effect in “The Ultimate Ministry of Happiness,” a novel I’ve labeled as my favorite read in the past year.
  2. TGST is filled with family characters, and though their names are odd and distinctive, I still get them confused, and this is a big distraction when reading.  Much of this is cultural unfamiliarity: to me, the name Estha sounds like it should be a female, and Rahel male; I don’t get the “baby” nametag; I don’t get the “chi” added to Pappa and Mamma. Chacko sounds like a cartoon character. And, to add to the confusion, there are often too many characters jammed into a scene or expository section.
  3. I sensed (and was enchanted by) the poetic and/or lyrical bent of Roy’s prose on page one. As the pages move on, the quips and images become a little edgier, not so cozy. Sometimes the lines are satiric or bumbling Indian humorous, I suppose. I fear slapstick, but know there is seriousness at the underbelly. Indians have a complex caste system and a Whitman’s Sampler of religious and political persuasions. Certain behaviors are expected. Are readers in store for random dysfunction and microscopic accounts of trifling occurrences? What is the Indian way of writing, the posture, in this book? I have many pages left to learn more. The UMH novel, if I were running a comparative poll, is still way ahead in my estimation as the better novel. Early factors why:  readability and sophistication of subject matter and poetic ingredients.
  4. Almost a third in, and for the first time my attention is held for several pages. There is momentum and conflict. It happens when the family at last gets to the cinema to see (once again) “The Sound of Music.” They set out to do this many days ago, and ever since I had been reading and reading, trudging through some digressive if not inane sections. Roy’s clever weave of movie scenes into the character’s adventures at the theater, however sordid with urination, child molestation, and  a hint of twins incest, keeps me actively engaged.
  5. The family’s meet-up with Chacko’s ex and the bratty daughter at the airport. Class warfare is evident. Kids behaving badly, their evasive instincts correct. Hints of tragedy and irreconcilable facts. The presence of concrete kangaroo-shaped trash receptacles.  The Bluer Plymouth and all its tail-finned glory awaits in the parking lot.  Every sentence pregnant with meaning, the thematic texture of the book compounding  and taking on more weight of meaning, and we’re only at the halfway point.  It seems God the Lyrical Prose Writer is looking after Roy’s choice of words.

The Long Ago Story of a Training Film Producer

Extract from “Fantastic Response: Work Stories from the Great Information Age”

© 2010  William P. Moore 

Going to Work for Big Daddy

The people and places come and go, asking to be dispelled. The flashbacks are gray and disordered. 

One night at Cardinal Associates’ original office on Monroe Road, circa 1973, Big Daddy CEO held a “future stockholders” meeting. He and the head of sales spoke about how rich we were going to be. Big Daddy struck me as having a huge appetite, someone who wanted to eat life before it ate him. He was powerful when he held the floor, and I remember some of us were jittery with expectation when we got up to introduce ourselves. At the time I really wanted to believe in all the blue sky predictions. I never expected the Cardinal saga would leave such a trail of woe.  

In a dream set in the present I saw Jay the Courier, still alive, using his arthritically twisted hands to load DART audio-visual instructional units into the Cardinal station wagon. He didn’t stack them neatly so their bright red sleeves aligned with each other; he opened the tailgate and dumped them in helter skelter. His face had changed after three decades. His good-natured and gentle expression was gone, replaced with the gnarled bitterness of a prizefighter who had been beaten senseless and done hard time. 

CFO Mack Jax looked like a defensive tackle from the Knute Rockne era. He had his shirt off in the back lot of the Monroe Road office. He carried a circular saw and cut two by fours. His whale-like GMC Suburban was parked in the sparse lawn. Under a nearby lean-to, Redneck Eddie was bent over his Nikon shooting flat art. Both of them were sweating in the Carolina summer. 

Inside, a tall and determined looking figure occupied a newly partitioned office with fresh drywall. There were no decorations. His surroundings were glaring white. The wall-mounted air conditioner was set to Glacial. He maintained perfect posture at his clean desk. O. Donald, VP of Production, had all-American traits. He might have even been our Alpha male. Before Cardinal, he had worked as a TV anchor for Big Daddy. He wasn’t a military man, but his dress and presence could be described in military slang: he was strack – fastidiously turned out and squared away. His only vice was the endless chain of menthol cigarettes he consumed. At his desk he was reviewing a writer’s script, giving it the once-over with a stern sort of kindness. He arched his right eyebrow in a scrutinizing squint.

I interviewed in O. Donald’s grotto on Monroe Road in 1972, right out of college with an English Literature degree from Carolina, the place with the red decal as opposed to O. Donald’s Carolina with the blue decal. I arrived with two required scripts in hand. One was my description of how to tie a shoelace, and the other was a set of instructions, with real props, on how to bait a mousetrap. Something went right. I enlisted at $140 a week, back then the equivalent of my monthly rent. 

In a disturbing dream I am stitching fabric in my cubicle. I feel uneasily like a contestant in an early days version of Project Runway. I go into the studio with all my patterns and scissors and sewing shit and work with Redneck Eddie to photograph the program. O. Donald comes in to model the necktie we taught everyone how to make. The shot appears in the last frame. Out of view, the back of his shirt is girded with clothes pins to make the front look unwrinkled and the tie hang perfect, just like they do in the Sears catalog.

To my relief, I graduated to the automotive series and was now working with Tom W. One morning I got my first professional edit, a line-by- line critique from Tom W.  The review was an informal event. We leaned back in our director chairs, making irreverent remarks. Tom wore suits that looked British and sometimes he sported a pipe or a cigar stub. He was both country and urbane. He opened a pen and with its cap held between his teeth he marked my script with redlines that made the words work much better. His writing tips left a lasting impression. I think I told him that and thanked him. Unassuming, Tom might have felt embarrassed.

Cardinal held daily meetings first thing in the morning in a big pow-wow circle formed by our black canvas director chairs. Big Daddy would talk first and debrief us on his latest road trip. He gave details in dramatic fashion like Dickens on tour in America. In the last part of the meeting, there was a final go-around. We all attempted to say something clever, eager to be a recognized player in Big Daddy’s witty parlor scene. 

The Sales force took over another building a few doors down on Monroe Boulevard. It was a small shack across the street from a health food café. The Cardinal “bird wagons” were idly parked behind it, and the salesmen strolled around in their suits acting anxious. Their boss, the Head of Sales (who we codenamed Morey Amsterdam) would come by and make cracks to get everyone laughing. Sometimes another funny man would join in, Little Mel, who would leave his Accounting office and drop by to do some shtick. 

When the company relocated closer to downtown Charlotte, Big Daddy scored a two-story building once held by IBM. The fearless leaders had nice window offices. The rest of us, in the meantime, lived in a Mack Jax Architecture cattle pen, which was a matrix of sixteen plywood cubicles, raised in the middle of the second floor. Outside the pen you could hear us pecking away on our Royal manual typewriters. The cubicles had all the charm of an empty refrigerator crate. Some of us fashioned “doors” made of fabric curtain or beads or in one case a 78×30 sheet of brown wrapping paper.  Like a toilet stall there was open space at the bottom (I could tickle Squeaky Reichart’s ankles if I chose to). One morning I looked up and saw Shuman the Human next door. He chinned himself up to the ledge.  He was joking about something, his ruddy face coloring brightly. Then in my dream the wall became glass and I could see that Shuman the Human had folded his yellow tie forward between his collar in a creaseless non-knot, like some sort of dog tongue. It might have been a Paul Harvey fashion statement or even something political and it was frightening. 

In another vision Sam the Comic Book Illustrator was in my guest chair talking non-stop. I had passed the point of polite listening and was struggling to retain consciousness. Jones came by and stood by the cubicle entrance, a thin paper cup of coffee trembling in his hand. He recited a haiku then walked away. Sam stopped his chatter and paused, breathless. He gave me a cartoon look of astonishment and then exhaled in wild uncomprehending laughter. 

Big Daddy sat with his legs crossed in an empty office overlooking the parking lot on the second floor.  It was a small place where many of us escaped to eat our brown-bag lunches. Big Daddy had a stenotype machine in his lap and was showing Darkroom Wade the “Cardinal Key” that he had invented to denote the long sound of a vowel. Darkroom Wade nodded with enthusiasm and munched on a huge square of cheddar cheese. A trendy writer named Curt Pequeño twisted off the cap of a split-size bottle of red wine. Big Daddy asked Curt Pequeño if he could have some because, he said with conviction, “it smells delicious.”

Tapping down the hall in her 3-inch heels and mini-skirt, Motown Mama offered a tawdry sparkle to the grim surroundings of the cubicle cattle pen. She had blonde hair cut short like Liza Minnelli. She was more reckless than graceful. She was nearsighted and would bump into people. Her apparition ran headlong into me, causing her forehead to leave a pale swipe of makeup on my shirt. Later, Flakey Foont sat next to me during our tuna salad lunch at the YMCA cafeteria and sniffed at me oddly. “You smell like something funky,” he said. After lunch, in the afternoon when the sun was streaming in, the aroma blended with the tuna still in my nostrils. I went to the janitors’ sink (where at night Jones sometimes bathed) and tried to sponge-wash that section of my shirt. I couldn’t get rid of it. I smelled like Motown and wondered how long I would.  

We were at the annual summer picnic at the old WSOC-TV facility on Lake Norman. Redneck Eddie and Foot-Pedal Jerry were cooking a pit pig. They stumbled about in their swim trunks. Everyone was getting sloshed with keg beer. Me and Slick Eddie (who, besides being a photographer too, was nothing at all like Redneck Eddie) joked about being outcast hippies because we had on blue jeans. It was about 126 degrees outside. Earlier we had ducked off into a stand of pine trees and smoked a doobie. After lunch one of the salesmen, maybe it was Jolly Ben, arrived in a speedboat while swigging on a bottle of liquor. He set up shifts to take everyone skiing. If we said no, the crew taunted us. Slick Eddie finally yielded. He held the ski rope and managed to get up, his jeans pouring out torrents of water, then went about ten yards before he fell backward. People on the boat were yelling and laughing. When I caved to their taunting and got in the water, half of Lake Norman rushed into my mouth. I churned forward in my Levis in a submerged crouch, my head barely above the surface behind two ski tips. I was choking and wondered about drowning before I finally let go of the rope. 

O. Donald held a meeting with the Exxon guys upstairs where we had placed a conference table in the break room (at night Jones’ secret kitchen). When it was time for lunch we gathered downstairs at the front desk. It was in the days when Cardinal relaxed the dress code, but O. Donald asked that I wear a suit for the occasion.  It was an awful looking plaid suit with a puke tie. I had a shaggy mustache and my hair was long, making me even stranger looking.  The receptionist (I can’t recall her name) kept pointing and laughing at me. When we were outside the door, she was still laughing. Humiliated, I marched down Morehead Street with the entourage to a staid and overpriced lunch at the Red Carpet Inn. I found the atmosphere there funereal: dim lights, heavy Victorian furnishings. O. Donald seemed happy and spoke to the others in his smooth TV voice. The vision was ecclesiastical, with his highness holding forth at the table talking to brothers in his rectory. That’s all fine and good, but I never liked business lunches. I decided I hated my job.

I was only 26. I didn’t like the prospect of having to work and be unhappy. My thoughts and indulgences were dark.  One day I was complaining about it to Steven Krane.

He was looking through his desk drawer for some herbal bark to chew on.

 “Don’t worry,” he said, “You’ve only got forty more years.”

In another troubling dream, I am standing at the console of a bulk cassette-duplicating machine. It is freshly loaded with Scotch 3M C90 tapes.  I thread the master Amway recording and (with guilt and loathing) push the button to generate twenty dubs. Most of us employed in the back room at Munwoe’s House of Tapes make cutting jokes about the lies and foolish propaganda in these tapes. But we ship hundreds of them every day via UPS. They are our paycheck. If only the studio had made as many DART cartridges. Sometimes a huge motor home with little American flags on its roof stops by the warehouse and a big shot with too much cologne parades in to collect his boxes of tapes. Day after day, during a long and desperate layoff period, I am insane and lost and doomed at Munwoe’s recording studio. O. Donald and Big Daddy eventually rescue me.

My mother died in the summer of 1975. I went to the burial in South Carolina and brought back peaches from my Uncle’s farm. Big Daddy took one from the basket and ate it, standing by my desk. Wet bits of fruit clung to his Van Dyke beard. He said it was the best peach he had ever eaten. He wiped up with a handkerchief and extended his condolences. Then we went downstairs and brainstormed on the How to Open a Bank Account series.

Writing Supervisor Flakey Foont was among the group of us who regularly played ping-pong after lunch at the Y across the street. The games grew more intense, and our hour always ran over. Maybe out of fear of O. Donald’s insistence on punctuality, Foont suggested we get our own setup. He was a good scoutmaster. He got a table and put it in an empty room upstairs. Foont talked some of us into buying special rackets with a nice foamy rubber surface instead of sandpaper. We held a tournament. Then the ping-pong fad passed. Next, he talked some of us into evening guitar lessons and flat-picking sessions. That didn’t last too long either. We knew that Foont was well intentioned. He made honest attempts to create “team spirit.”  But actually Cardinal had its own synergies that some of us understood and tapped into. Our morale required no artificial injections; just honest writing work, a steady check, and beer breaks at Gentleman Jim Conder’s Sundries down the street.  

As an aside, the ping-pong room was also where Cardinal presented its Christmas Slide Show, a clever “roast” production put together by Redneck Eddie. The party took place in the evening, and the spouses and investors came. I was stunned to see Jones on hand, clean and freshly shaven, wearing a new suit that someone had helped him buy, right off the rack.

 Weeks before, Jones took me into the basement of the building and showed me where he was living. We had to lower our heads and stoop under pipes and ductwork. We made a sharp turn and there, against the far wall and hidden from view by the large furnace, was Jones’ hard times bedroom. He had a table lamp, something that looked like a sleeping bag (it may have been the baby mattress Tom W. describes in his accounts of Cardinal), a rudimentary bookshelf with his books of “intellectual snobbery,” a typewriter, and a large pyramid of Schlitz beer cans. I mentioned that John Cheever once lived in a flophouse and wrote in the cellar. Jones wasn’t listening. He was preoccupied and nervous as hell. He asked me if I would help him move his things out “when the time came.” 

A variety of Winston Wolf figures visited and left, trying to help resolve Cardinal’s dilemma. At one desperate point, the name McGeorge Bundy was thrown around as someone who might help. Some of us wondered: the war escalator under LBJ? That McGeorge Bundy? (Looking back on this, I learned that after his White House days Bundy was the big cheese at the Ford Foundation, and – in a reach of logic – possibly had educational grant money to give away.)

Tom W has suggested that our scarring experience at Cardinal might have been our version of Viet Nam.  We tried to extend the metaphor, thinking of the film “Apocalypse Now” with Cardinal figures in the cast: Big Daddy CEO as Colonel Kurtz, VP O. Donald as Captain Willard, Professor Jones as the Dennis Hopper photojournalist, and Slick Eddie as Lance the surfer. The rest of us were anxiety-ridden troops who endured, defending a bridge over and over again at the last outpost. 

Down the hall a chorus of ghostly voices made an interrogatory wail:  “Who hired Bud Stewart?  Did you hire Bud Stewart?”  The Frito Bandito contractor stood outside my office in a tall pilgrim’s posture and asked, “What’s cooking, Boss?”

Towards the end, Cardinal built its own recording studio upstairs, essentially thumbing its nose at Munwoe’s House of Tapes. Stoic O. Donald did the narrations, and Foot-Pedal Jerry, jovial and servile, manned the board. I produced the last of my Cardinal programs in this makeshift studio, several pointless ones based on a Midwest vocational school’s programs. I think one of them was “How to Clean Your Icebox,” sure to get a huge response in the educational marketplace.

In a concurrent nightmare I came into O. Donald’s office for his group’s Production meeting and was twenty minutes late. I was hung over and my coffee cup had a broken handle, prompting me to announce, “I’ve lost my grip.”  The pun reduced O. Donald’s anger and he broke a smile. But then after the meeting, while the others left, he asked me to stay. In the dream I sat in O. Donald’s office alone for a few minutes while he went to the bathroom.  When he returned he was wearing a white alb with a maroon cincture. He stood above me and said even though we were in hard times and the company may not make it, he found it necessary to issue me a formal reprimand. 

In an alternate dream I was given a promotion. That was right after O. Donald reviewed the filmstrip for Fuel Systems XVII and decided that the open-end wrench in the photograph wasn’t backward after all, and bumped my salary grade up five notches, gave me a company car, and asked me to begin recruiting a staff of pretty female writers. Meanwhile Big Daddy announced that Cardinal stock had gone public and Merrill Lynch said the IPO was a huge success and we were instantly rich. Insolvent Professor Jones walked by and said he had just closed on a house. All of us went into the conference room and had a couple of six-packs to celebrate. 



 The Old Crow Ohio Meeting

After a wretched business class flight to Cleveland, I sat up late in a Ramada Inn with Big Daddy and one of his sales reps, Jolly Ben. We passed around a fifth of Old Crow bourbon and drank it straight out of plastic cups.

Jolly Ben was one of Big Daddy’s favorite salesmen. He was a large, good-natured guy whose sunny disposition didn’t quite fit the Cardinal mold. He worked selling to schools, and that environment was easier on the soul than the corporate market. I don’t think Ben sold for us very long. He may have left around the same time Mel & Bucky’s Accounting department was told to cut expenses and pulled the plug on the fleet of sales cars and the drivers too.

Sitting around in the hotel room, Jolly Ben and Big Daddy bragged to me about their previous trip. They claimed to have pulled strings to reserve an executive suite at the Ritz-Carlton, and as a result, bumped the Billy Graham contingency. They used the suite to entertain and hustle a bunch of middle managers from AB Dick or somewhere.

Big Daddy would often mix impertinence with gravitas.

The stories continued. I don’t recall most of his and Ben’s bullshit that night. I was along on the trip basically to observe and learn and sit in on a meeting scheduled with Dietzgen. Big Daddy wanted them to hire us to produce training programs on how to use their new automated drafting tools device. I was slated to be the scriptwriter.

Big Daddy got real serious for a moment. He turned off the room’s TV, which had been playing without sound. He lit his pipe and stood by the window. Did his best Douglas Macarthur stance. He said he was spreading himself thin in Ohio. He told me to take the lead. To meet by myself with the Dietzgen people in the morning, gather data, then go home and write a proposal. He said I needed to “wear a bit of a sales hat.”

I had only been with Cardinal a few weeks, and as a new writer, this assignment was an unexpected bomb of angst. I recalled that Big Daddy had told me that he and O. Donald wanted to groom Cardinal writers like they did their news reporters, to be versatile and capable of many jobs. 

As I felt my nerves grating against this new responsibility, Big Daddy and Jolly Ben shifted back to on-the-road stories and general hilarity.

I didn’t have much to contribute to the conversation. I silently wished I could just go back to my room and sleep. Big Daddy in his omniscient way knew this about me and prolonged the meeting, taking small jabs at my unease. We stayed up until the Old Crow was almost gone.

In the morning they dropped me off downtown for the Dietzgen meeting. I met with one or two of the clients and made small talk. Luckily most of our time was spent looking at the electronic drafting gizmo. The technician had some problems with it. The robotic t-square lurched and skipped across the drawing table. Only one company person gave me interview time, and he was like me: a small fish who wasn’t very knowledgeable about deals. Big Daddy and Ben came breezing in for lunch and then we all flew home early. They were not too interested in hearing about Dietzgen, so I figured something had changed with their client base in Ohio.

My cut-and-paste typed yellow-paper draft proposal to Dietzgen was never requested, and the document still sits in a musty folder in my file cabinet, decades later in Florida. Cardinal eventually did produce a couple of programs for AB Dick.

Rats Falling from the Sky: the Hotlanta Convention

During a brief period when Cardinal had a thread of a budget, many of us were enlisted to travel in support of an exhibitor’s booth at some national training convention somewhere.

Atlanta was an opportunity because of its close proximity to Charlotte. That took expensive airline fees out of the equation.

Mack Jax, the venerable CFO, was trying hard to raise capital. He called on all sorts of people. An anxious look came into his eyes. Once warm and avuncular, he now appeared distressed, bent in the spine.

Meanwhile, Big Daddy CEO had his minions build the exhibit’s booth panels and ship them south. The show’s union workers in Atlanta would install them. Then he orchestrated and set forth a caravan of vehicles and trailers, deployed in phases from our Charlotte office.

Six or eight or way too many of us piled inside one of the company’s station wagons, this particular one driven by Flakey Foont, our feckless supervisor. We left after work and traveled all evening. 

We were in the post-Watergate era, still in the Nixon-Ford Recession when everyone had to drive 55 mph. As dull as 55 was, the slower pace may have saved our lives. The U-Haul trailer was not properly loaded. Its swollen cargo load of Directed Action Response Training (DART) machines swung dangerously behind us.

One of the writers in the car, Randy R, a string bean of a fellow with a heavy Carolina accent, was wicked clever. He entertained us with descriptions and by keening snippets of Billy Joe Shaver, Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings and other “Outlaw” country singers. At the time, all of those names were new to me.

Randy R later became a legendary figure for two things at Cardinal: 1) his “Randometer” which was a spinning abacus type device that generated random numbers for use in a cash register student program, and 2) his hip and rebellious response to a Yes or No question by an important Cardinal company officer during a crucial confrontation:  Randy said “Negative, man!”

Later that night, approaching the city, the conversations wore down and fatigue set in. Most of us rolled our heads around, shifted in our seats, and fought sleep. Then Randy R woke us up with a cry of alarm, claiming he saw rats falling out of the sky. At that moment the trailer began a jackknife move, which Foont successfully countered. 

As we exited I-85 and negotiated the Atlanta streets in search of the hotel, the talk came to room assignments. There were to be pairs per double-bedded rooms. Only we were one person too many, which meant someone would have to bunk in Big Daddy’s room. There was considerable fear in the car about this prospect. We did the only fair thing we could think of: we drew cards.

Unfortunately I lost.

Once we got to the hotel, before we did anything else, most of us hit the bar. I hit it a little harder than most.

I brought my suitcase and sorry ass up to the door of Big Daddy’s room at the Atlanta Riviera, sometime around midnight. I was praying that there were double beds in there. The door was unlocked and I went in.

He awoke and cursed at me. My heightened anxiety and the counter-wallop of several beers made me react in a talkative way. I said sorry I wasn’t thrilled about disturbing him either. I said it wasn’t my fault. I said I would be quiet and let him sleep. I said I was freaking glad there was another bed. Then I heard Big Daddy chortle in the darkness of the room. He said he didn’t know I could talk so much. He soon returned to his fitful, snoring sleep. I recall he got up before dawn. I wondered if it was his old pilot habits. He was showered and dressed and gone before I even got up.

The next night, one of the guys returned to Charlotte, and I moved into a normal room. It was a great relief.

I don’t recall much of the actual convention. I do have a lingering visual memory of our venerable CFO, Mack Jax, bringing lunch to everyone at the booth: a gigantic bag of miniature Crystal burgers. Very economical, we thought, using a nice word for it.

Stanley & Livingston: the Atlantic City Convention

Hard times across the country went on unabated. Cardinal Associates struggled to turn a profit, so the bosses stepped up a campaign to show force at national trade shows. Those of us in the trenches fretted about holding our jobs, and were happy to travel if it meant we could still get a check for a while.

This company excursion en masse was to the Convention Hall in Atlantic City (for years home to the Miss America pageant). There, in the mornings, CEO Big Daddy and his executive entourage began the day by drinking from Thermos jugs of coffee heavily laced with whiskey. Granted, it was chilly inside the vast old building (so huge it once held the first indoor football game), but their coffees were more for effect than warmth.

I had flown up to Philadelphia the previous evening, as Big Daddy shuffled his writers in and out of Atlantic City. At the Philly airport I happened to meet up with fellow writer Tom W, who had just left the convention. We were like two lost souls suddenly elated to find a kindred spirit. We were like Stanley & Livingston meeting on the strange dark continent.

But we were going in opposite directions. Tom had done his shift and was flying back home to NC. Meanwhile I had to catch the Atlantic City Shuttle, which was actually one of Cardinal’s fleet station wagons on special assignment, taking the troops an hour or two east into Atlantic City.

I expected the place to look friendlier than it did. Apparently we had come here near the end of Atlantic City’s old era, in a time of transition when casinos were coming up on the horizon. The area looked dire, bombed out. Citizens looked unhappy. The dingy gray February sky was filled with fast-moving war clouds.

The hotel where I was reserved was a nondescript place, hidden on upper floors between buildings, with much the look of a low-cost European hostel.

The bellman was a nervous and sweaty middle-aged guy who looked thin with cancer. He unloaded my bags and spoke bluntly. “I’m Gene,” he said. “If you need ice or liquor, call Gene. If you need directions, ask Gene. If you want pussy, Gene can get you that too.”

That night, I went out with fellow writer Randy R and searched the backstreets of Atlantic City for a place to have a beer. We wanted to avoid the clip joints on the Boardwalk, where it was freezing cold anyway. The town’s interior lanes were ominous and confusing, and our knowledge of Monopoly street names was of no use. We entered one neighborhood bar that was pretty hard-core. No music, no TV, no frills, just hard liquor and tough time customers. The bartender didn’t quite follow Randy’s NC accent. I was jittery. I ordered a shot of rye to go with my draft beer. I had never had rye. It just seemed like the kind of place one would drink it.

The next night some of the salesmen took us in their fleet wagon to a belly dancer joint. The food was earthy and tainted. The clientele were reptilian. Two of the salesmen, both aging Southeastern types with standard issue khaki-pants and blue oxford shirts, tried to bribe the belly dancer into leaving. The scene was more embarrassing than fun.

My memory of the convention itself is patchy. We manned the booth all day, our feet killing us, a group of fidgety writers trying to peddle DART modules. The days were long and tedious. Sometimes there were diversions at nearby booths, often some cheesecake models to gawk at.

The morning of the last day, I sat with some of the sales force over breakfast at a marginal cafe on the Boardwalk. One of the reps was a tall, pale guy named Evers, who looked downcast over his soupy scrambled eggs. In a soft, almost inaudible voice, he told me he was looking for another job, that Cardinal was cooked and his health was failing because of it.

The afternoon after the show’s close, those of us still in town were summoned to Big Daddy’s high-rise hotel room in one of the older, once-famous hotels, a rococo-styled building of fading grandeur. We crowded into Big Daddy’s guest suite and began to drink cans of Schmidt’s beer. It felt great to sit on the carpet and take our shoes off.

Big Daddy’s hair was slicked back and he looked tired and somewhat Nixonian. He gave a small pep talk. There was change in the air, he said. Everyone stared into their beer. Big Daddy tried to be optimistic, but didn’t unleash his usual theatrics. Our spirits were low.

After his meeting was over, I went out on the Boardwalk and walked north. Beyond the end of the famous steel pier where horses once dove, a swarm of brown seagulls screeched and flew in wide manic circles above the whitecaps.


For a Gonzo-type history by others as well (featuring the comics of Professor Jones), see the Cardinal history website.


Joy Williams: “The Visiting Privilege”

joy(updated October 20, 2019)

It’s a big collection of her stories, old and new. When I first wrote this book report, I’d checked out the book from the library. This time, after reading a recent New Yorker that featured a new Joy Williams story, I bought the book.

As I wrote previously: How did I miss out on her all this time?  Who do I read that does short stories any better?

Williams can place characters inside a crucible in a story without us even noticing. Often the situations are odd and disturbing. Morals are stripped bare for examination. Sometimes there’s a whiff of Flannery O’Connor in the air. The stories also include many animals, who are equally random and resident on earth.

As I go down the Contents list, adding checkmarks by the ones I read, I find that each story reveals her mastery of the form. Each has its own set of themes, mysteries, and nuance. Unlike many of today’s hailed and awarded stories that are too often cleverly phrased throwaways, Joy Williams’ collected stories are solid and invite being re-visited.

Her writing is a reflection of our privilege to be cogent, alive visitors on Earth. Her book allows us the privilege to share in her observations, many of which are poetic and visionary. Her work should reside permanently in the study books for classes of American Literature: Modern Short Story.

“Signs Preceding the End of the World” by Yuri Herrera

It is sort of a puzzle and also a lyrical piece. In the sense of world statement, it’s a dark, futuristic view of an immigration apocalypse.

Unlike a lot of fiction here in the American Age of Super Realism, it does not make things so abundantly clear and  in your face. Instead the story coaxes the reader and invites involvement, as a poem does.

The main character is a brave woman named Makina, who is sent to carry an underworld package in exchange for finding her brother.  She is brave and lusty and intuitive and at the same time green and naive for never having traveled.

“When she reached the top of the saddle between the two mountains it began to snow. Makina had never seen snow before and the first thing that struck her as she stopped to watch the weightless crystals raining down was that something was burning.”

The tightly written novella describes her journey into the land of Anglos and how alien the world appears to her. She has trepidatious episodes, and in the end we are left to figure what has exactly happened to her.  No place names are used, which makes the reading minimal and fresh.

PS- update: my latest take on the Spanish word “verse” as used in the book is “to be seen” or a reflexive verb using se, as in “to see oneself.”  Call it an educated guess.

Books, Photos, Etc: Spring in FL 2019

“The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez

A simple, well-written, and passionate story about Central and South American immigrants adjusting to a new life in the USA. The family characters are vivid and likeable, and the conditions and human dramas in their new less-than-desirable home in Wilmington, Delaware make it a page-turner.  There is fiery romance and pending tragedy between Maribel and Mayor, which is the heart of the book. There is a lot to be learned here by gringo readers.

th   “Waveland” by Frederick Barthelme

Down and out, a book of three or four people still hanging in there in coastal Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Being mean, being sweet, being survivors.  It’s Vaughn the architect’s story, simple yet complex (owing to his constant soulful introspection). Once again, like in his classic novel “Tracer,” we see a man who is separated and dashing proceed in his everyday life with a new girlfriend, who somehow/someway is tolerant of Vaughn’s getting back together with his ex-wife. All three end up in one house at one time, in a Tennessee Williams sort of crucible, making for a survival of a different kind. I didn’t like the three characters that much to fall in love with the book, and the dynamics came across like something I’d already read  before.  Still, I remain a big Rick Barthelme fan. Not many out there are writing from their heart and soul about everyday American men. He does it with truth, fairness, and guts.

“The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

I’ve been trying to read this book for years and in March made it farther than I have before, which is still less than 25% in. Ellison’s writing is true to the times, in the sense that it’s wordy, strident with complaint, indulgent in artsy be-bop, and filled with tangents, a style largely unagreeable to today’s more impatient “give it to me stoic and straight” readers. I wondered early about the influence of marijuana in the author’s self-edits.  Who can contest decades of critics and readers who have proclaimed this a great novel? It assuredly is, but it’s one I cant seem to settle into and press relentlessly ahead in the pages. I wish I could appreciate it for all its worth, and eventually will try again.


Pensive, decades after College Spring-Breaks of Yore.

Houston Nightspots 1980-1986

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of traffic coming to read my article called “A Look Back at Gilley’s 1980.”

Here are some of the other bars I remember from the early 80s in Houston. Those were great days. If you were there, you’ll recall some of them.  I’ll add to the list as they come to mind. (though some I can’t remember their names).

Any places you recall and want to share, send to   -> wpmfla at gmail.

Todd’s – Richmond Avenue area. Had the feel of a neighborhood bar, usually a good crowd, polite, well-to-do, and above all looking for love. Todds was one of the best meet markets on the Southwest Side. The dancing was full throttle by 5 pm. For the less energetic, there was backgammon.

Shanghai Red’s – Red-hot happy hour with dancing and a free buffet, all with a great view right on the Ship Channel. Disadvantaged locals ate for free and left, like a community service.

San Antone Rose – Cold longnecks, mixed crowd with C/W and Top 40, a little for everyone. On San Felipe, West Side. The Rose had a free happy hour buffet too. Their tamales were delicious, but smelly.

Cowboys – A crowded sort of upscale C/W bar. I think it was on Westheimer or Richmond, out west. I was there when a fight broke out. A friend of mine got clobbered.

Spats – A high-end bar and dance place in an office plaza near the Galleria. You had to know where it was. Beautiful people, heavy druggy amorous glamorous and booze-soaked. A paragon of disco’s.

Munchies – an artsy ice-house on Bissonett near Rice with string quartet music and mimes. There was another great ice-house closer to Bellaire but I can’t recall its name.

Yesterday Once More – best I remember it was located in South Houston. Lots of line dancing in an atmosphere of mostly Carpenter tunes ranging from the romantic to the morose. The place had a separate “Mood Room” with glass partitions and couches.

Chaucer’s – an Arts Museum area bar on Bissonett and Montrose in the basement of the old Plaza Hotel. My favorite after-work hangout. I was fond of Vivian the bartender. She’d have a Johnny Walker Black and water ready before I got down the stairs. One night, overindulged, I slept alone in the hotel’s “crash room.”

Marfreless – in River Oaks, an unmarked and eclectic bar for couples. Superb ambience, great mixologists behind the bar. Marf’s had sofas and curtained nooks, a great place for lovers.

Sillouhette Lounge – a cozy neighborhood nudie club on the unfashionable side of Bellaire Blvd.  Friendly, non-threatening. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Rockefellers – in the Heights, an old bank turned into a mini concert hall with big name shows and retro nightclub tables. I went on invitation from friends who were gay.  Those guys were always tuned in to the trendier places in town.

Cooters – I think that was the name, anyway. A large dance club and saloon on the opposite end of the shopping plaza from Todd’s, on Richmond Avenue.  Had the reputation of over-served customers. Some of the baseball Astros drank there. Some of the visiting rival Mets were arrested there.

Shamrock Hilton – The hottest place in town on March 17th. Great ballroom drunken mix. Lots of random kissing. One eventually learned to book a room far in advance.

“Guermantes Way” – Proust

9789176053393_200In 2016, after stalling out in Chapter 1 of novel 3 (of In Search of Lost Times), I came back to re-visit and am getting into it again.  I’ll need to go back and re-read that first chapter. Sometime.

But for now, I started where my bookmark was, and that’s Chapter 2. Young man Marcel is now out on his own in Paris, mostly in pursuit of young women. He has enough status and station to arrange to see women by formal letter and then sends for a carriage to bring them to his room. Or in Albertine’s case, he’s around when she pops in unexpectedly. The liaisons are described in slow, tedious actions. We are to assume that Marcel is still green and tentative.  His romantic interactions with Albertine (the boisterous girl from Balbec in beachy novel 2), despite the eloquence of his accounts, seem childish. While she is frank and forthcoming, he lacks the confidence and candor to be an effective lover.

We see a repeating syndrome. Marcel has a thing for an older female aristocrat, as he did as a boy with Swann’s wife the courtesan Odette (and later her daughter Gilberte too). This time his object of desire is the Duchess Guermantes, who as depicted, is a powerful and beautiful woman who could drink a man’s blood like wine. She is separating from her husband and at long last returns some attention to the once-adoring Marcel. He now, and this may change in later pages,  apparently has other conquests on his mind. His numb reactions to her invitations are pitiful and cringe-worthy.  He doesn’t seem to have his values in order. Hovering around him as a reminder of his impetuous behavior is the omnipresent moral enforcer the housekeeper Francoise.  As yet, I am not understanding his friendships with pals Bloch, Robert, and Charlus.

Stay tuned for more of this report.  Novel 4, Cities of the Plain, is under the same book cover. That should be fun,  Only a few hundred more pages to go.

“Lake Success” by Gary Shteyngart


At the turning point in his journey of misery and discovery, protagonist Barry Cohen daydreams of Lake Success, NY. It’s like looking for a rope when drowning. A Manhattan mega-capitalist who has spun out of the fast lane, he imagines it’s a safe landing spot, a more peaceful suburban life, replete with healthy sons and matching sinks and domestic bliss. Lake Success is a place of zero madness, he seems to believe, a nostalgic town of anonymity and normalcy.  It is perhaps no ironic accident on the author’s part that this real town was once the location of the United Nations HQ (the book is an international POC extravaganza, most of whom get along) and Sperry-Rand’s gyroscope engineering center (stability, anyone?)

“Lake Success” is an intelligent, piercing, and often humorous look at the Manhattan rich and the American not-so-rich and all the woes befallen to both. It’s set in 2016, the advent of the surprising and, to many, nauseating era of Donald Trump.

We get the added benefit of Shteyngart’s’s ability to write travelog, as he takes his main character by bus from NYC to Richmond to Atlanta to El Paso-Juarez (the author nails the fear of the place perfectly), and at last to San Diego to see his father’s grave.

For all the trouble Barry Cohen creates for himself, he comes out at the end, escaping ignominy and insolvency (he has 35 million left). He re-gathers accomplices in the land of ruthless hedge-fund players and goes on with his life, now single. It couldn’t be any other way. He is an unlikeable character from the start, and often his failures are well deserved. Only his magnetic charm and deep pockets save the day.

He does have a certain Holden Caulfield innocence once away from the trappings of Wall Street, and for this we can say he’s a likable jerk. He loves kids and passionately tries to change the lives of two of them. He dislikes phoniness, begins to realize the danger of designing women. He seeks the heart of the world, stripped down and pitiful, having run away from The Top – and at considerable risk to family and self. Sometimes we worry more about his black Mastercard or his prized watch collection.

It can get ugly.  Barry huffs crack and gets pathetically physical with a man behind a bus station. On another occasion he hooks up with a beautiful black girl seated next to him on the bus. After they have sex in a hotel room, Barry thinks she has stolen his things (she actually put them in the room safe). Both events are gratuitous and kind of creepy. Characters eat each other in this book like cannibals, capitalist ones.

In the Big Ending, we are preconditioned to feel warm and take out our hankies over his autistic son’s dramatic bar mitzvah. It’s difficult to feel much empathy or joy, considering the place of wealth and privilege Barry rented out so the kid can become a man.  Yet one concludes this too is consistent with the story.  Money is what he ultimately knows. Barry Cohen is, after all, still a  very rich asshole who can buy and settle for another kind of “Success.”