Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas...

Please excuse this "filler" post. I'll be finishing up my "Introduction to Dover Street" series shortly, but between that series and "Angelina" before it, my "Silver Fox" blog has been kind of an emotional drag lately, and I needed a small vacation.

And today? Today, just so the last thing I leave you with before the holiday won't be hookers'n'junkies, I'm going to reprint something I wrote exactly four years ago, when the New England weather was rainy, as it is today! (And, in the interests of full disclosure, I've shoe-horned in an additional essay of mine from slightly before then, and edited them both together in a hopefully seamless fashion.) So remember, it's four years ago as you read the following... but in a lot of ways, it's very much "today," too.

* * * * *

Ah. Christmas in New England. Almost, anyway. Unseasonally warm weather, lots of rain... Real mood killer, even for those like myself who like the rain ordinarily. Bing Crosby must be rolling over in his grave. Well, maybe not. If he had been, I'm sure it would have been reported somewhere.

What a sucky year this has been, for so many of us. Myself, for example. The best Christmas present I can receive this year will be my making it all the way to January 2nd. My last-minute holiday duties will involve trying to do something for those few who have been going out of their way to do things for me lately. (Personal note, here, to some of those people: If I don't "catch" you before or on the holiday, I will catch you sometime soon thereafter. So if I don't see you this weekend, don't think I forgot you!) That's not just a selfish attitude of "You're not getting from me unless you've given to me," as outright Christmas presents are not what I'm talking about here, but rather a reference to those who've bent over backwards to do whatever they can to help me through some tough medical, financial, and emotional times in the past few months.

For once, I'm not as empowered as I usually am to play savior (note the all-so-humble lower-case "s" there) to those friends of mine who are less fortunate than I. Although there are plenty of people in my inner circle whose problems are far worse than mine, my own problems are just that: My problems. So they affect me more than other people's problems affect me. Never makes much sense to cry in anybody else's beer, ya know?

Sometimes, in terms of my friends (as opposed to strangers, "random acts of kindness," etc.) I really wish I could limit myself to helping only those who would return the favor in full if they were so empowered (if I may use that word once more). Maybe that would be my New Year's resolution, if I believed in that sort of nonsense. Although I truly believe that if there's something about yourself that you want or need to change, you should do it right away, and not wait for an arbitrary change of the calendar. And this sage advice comes from the King of the Procrastinators (Scroll down to #10.).

Let me repeat that, for emphasis: I really wish I could limit myself to helping only those who would return the favor in full if they were so empowered. But who am I kidding, I've been "promising" myself to do that for years. Told you I was King of the Procrastinators.

Anyway, I'm bothered by this whole situation where Christians* are urged to be tolerant of other people's religions -- which is fine, and just, and all that crap! -- but now it's gotten to the point where we're also urged to (to self-consciously use a Biblical reference) "hide our own light under a bushel." Christmas is quickly becoming "the 'c' word," an unfortunate & degrading reference which offends the hell... uhh, make that "heck"... out of me.

I won't go so far as to agree with Bill O'Reilly and say there's a "war" on Christmas, but...

In order to avoid offending anyone anywhere, Christians have often had to stop putting up Nativity scenes on city hall property. Those Americans who believe in the Judeo/Christian God are verbally chastised for having innocuous phrases like "under God" in our country's Pledge of Allegiance, and "In God We Trust" on our money. And if it wasn't for the brief -- but somewhat inspirational -- unity we U.S. citizens showed immediately after 9/11/01, I'm sure there would have been more comments against "God Bless America" being our rallying song. And of course, who can forget the recent brouhaha about Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and his refusal to remove the monument to the Ten Commandments from the state's Judicial Building?

Folks, I'm not arguing against the "separation of church and state," I'm simply suggesting that if this country is going to observe said concept, it do so across the board, and not ignore it when it's -- to quote Dana Carvey's Church Lady, fittingly enough -- "conveeeeenient," like when it's a good way for a politician, pressure group, or so-called "private citizen" to say "I'm not a bigot, I'm just following God's laws!" while he or she is trampling someone else's civil rights.

If you insist that grocery store & department store intercoms play generic, non-denominational "holiday" music (endless variations of "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Jingle Bells," "Frosty the Snowman," etc.) as opposed to anything which actually reminds us -- God forbid! (pun intended) -- that the first two thirds of the word "Christmas" refer to that Jesus guy ("We Three Kings," "The First Noel," "Oh, Holy Night," etc.), why stop there? All these references to "the holiday season" and other, non-Christian holidays, are just a blind, at least when it comes to what day we're actually commemorating. This isn't meant to invalidate anybody else's religious beliefs, but the plain and simple fact is that Christmas itself is a Christian holiday. Get over it. Or, failing that, if you insist that it's solely "their" holiday, stop celebrating it!

Now there's a thought!

Let's make these self-righteous Christians just pick up their toys -- you know, the toys ostensibly delivered by a Saint named Nicholas? -- and go home. And while we're at it, let's invoke the separation of church and state once again. Why should a Christian holiday be a national holiday, anyway? "Our" religion, "everybody's" paid day off? Something inherently wrong there, innit?

Other religions have their own holidays at this time of year, too. And more power to 'em. But they don't have national, paid holidays. So, why should Christians?

Therefore, here's my message to Christians and non-Christians alike: From now on, on every December 25th, shake off your eggnog-induced hangover, get your lazy ass out of bed, and go to work! And forget about a Christmas bonus while you're at it. What do you really need that extra money for anyway, except to buy more presents? If we're getting away from Christmas-based practices, the gift-giving itself has to be toned down. Let all of us -- Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, etc. -- concentrate on the "real" meanings of our respective holidays, and let the atheists and agnostics -- God bless 'em! -- do whatever it is that they do this time of year, too. And if the economy suffers a bit in the process, oh-freaking-well! Babies.

I'm just asking for a little consistency. That's all. Just a little. Kinda like Swift's "A Modest Proposal," 21st century style.

So, I wish everybody a Happy Whatever-you-celebrate, 'cause I'm just so freakin' gracious. (Well, sometimes.) But let me and mine celebrate what we believe in, as long as we're not stepping on your overly-sensitive PC toes.

("Hey, this one wasn't very funny... " "Maybe not, but it contains more links than a box of Brown 'N Serve Sausages!")

Anyway, gang... Happy Krimble. *ahem*

And thanks for your time.

*I just wanted to point out that when I say I'm a "Christian," I am emphatically not aligning myself with the right-wing, pro-Chimp, neo-fascist "red state" nutballs getting so much press lately. (I'm a Massachusetts moderate, m'self!) I'm just referring to people who really believe in that whole "Jesus" thing. (You remember Him, right? He's the dude whose birthday "we" celebrate... umm... somewhere around this time of year.)

* * * * *

Just a couple of after-thoughts, here:

  • Since I wrote the above, I've gotten much better about doing -- mainly -- for those who'd do for me if they could... and it's paid off. Now, when I need a favor or two, the people I ask are there for me whenever possible.
  • I might not have included that line about "And if the economy suffers a bit in the process, oh-freaking-well!" if I'd known then what we all do now. Ouch.
Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Three


The following is a true story. Quite a few of the names and other identifying details have been changed, and dialogue re-written accordingly, because of that fact.

Previously:
After having discovered that Sheila, someone I was casually dating, was a drug-addicted prostitute with a huge, imposing boyfriend -- usually
much more than enough to keep me away from someone -- I looked her up once again anyway, and paid her for her time, in the name of research! And through all this, my young friend Lori was becoming more and more convinced that I was just plain nuts!

* * * * *

The next time I located Sheila and picked her up, she assumed that this time, it was for sex. I surprised the hell out of her by once again offering money for what she (almost) considered was "nothing."

But she got used to it, eventually, because I continued stopping for her. I was learning a lot about how the so-called street people lived, thought, hustled, and sometimes died.

Upon learning that I was picking up Sheila every few days, my friend Lori hit the proverbial roof. "Are you sure you're not doing it with her?"

"Umm... Yeahhh, I think I'd remember that."

"This isn't funny."

"Lori. Final time: I am not paying her for sex, I'm paying for her time, basically. And I'm not sleeping with her for free, either, if for no other reason than that persistent image I have of her boyfriend coming home, catching us, grabbing me by the ankles, and swinging me like a baseball bat against the nearest wall!"

"Why do you keep calling this guy her boyfriend?"

"What do you mean?"

"He's not her boyfriend. He's her pimp."

"No, he's not."

"David. He beats her up when she doesn't bring home money? He's her pimp!"

"No. What he is, is a guy who supposedly loves her... "

"Yeah, sure. 'I love you, honey. Now go out and screw a bunch of other guys so we can get high tonight,' right?"

I agreed with Lori's reasoning, at least where the "love" part was concerned. How can you send someone you "love" out onto the streets to support your habit? Ever since this all happened, I've asked several women that question. Women in what I so loftily refer to as "the real world" -- people who don't do drugs and/or don't sell themselves -- automatically say, "You don't!" but women who live in "that" world say things like, "Well, you don't understand how powerful drug addiction really is! You'll do anything to support your habit, even allow your wife or girlfriend to become a prostitute." Well, after all these years, I may understand it, but I'll never fully accept it. And I never saw any of these so-called loving boyfriends going out selling their services so their women wouldn't have to!

If you read "Angelina," you may recall Marty talking about the hooker he fell in love with: "I wanted her all to myself -- no more working the streets, in other words -- but the... umm.. 'financial realities' of the whole drug thing made that impossible." But in Marty's case, "his" hooker was already doing that when he met her. He wasn't the one who turned her out.

Sheila's boyfriend was the type I've since seen a lot of, the type who goes about his own affairs, once in a while contributing by "working his hustle," which is a nice way of saying he would do things to get money from people without really working for it. Sometimes he'd sell drugs. If I correctly remember what Sheila said about him, he smoked a lot of weed, and smoked crack occasionally. So he wasn't actually an addict, like she was. And any way you cut it, he still depended on her for the majority of their income.

Nice guy.

But not a pimp.

In fact, he's what they call -- or used to call -- an "easy rider." And no, try to shake that image of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper zooming down the highway on their "choppers," with the strains of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" blaring in the background. They -- the movie-makers themselves, that is -- got the name for the movie from an old Southern term for a man living with a prostitute.

Okay, okay, one final digression for now: You may have noticed that I tend to stick with the terms "hooker" and "prostitute," avoiding other synonyms like "whore." It's just a personal bias. "Prostitute" is almost an informal job title; "hooker" is a friendlier term. To me, anyway. And "whore?" I dunno... "Whore" has a nasty edge to it -- it's like the difference between calling someone "fat" as opposed to "overweight" -- and I don't think these girls deserve that.

Back to the story!

Lori wasn't done with me yet. "And you do realize that every dollar you give her goes right up her nose, right?" I didn't think that now was the time to nit-pick and correct Lori by pointing out that Sheila's cocaine habit, I had learned, was actually a crack habit, so I wisely and uncharacteristically kept my mouth shut. "Do you know the term "enabler,' David?"

"You're missing a very important point here. If I weren't giving her money, someone else would be. She'd quite literally do anything she had to to feed her habit. A day I don't show up is not a day that she goes without!" To drive my point home a bit more forcefully, I continued, crudely listing a few things Sheila could be doing which, even Lori had to agree, were a lot worse than sitting in my car, talking to me. "And that's not considering the fact that any one of those other guys could be freaks who'd beat her up just for the hell of it, or rape her, or kill her... "

"You make it sound like you're doing some kind of public service by feeding her habit."

"No, not at all. I'm just saying that I'm a lot better than most of the alternatives, and that she'd be out there anyway. I'm no damned hero, certainly, but I'm no villain, either."

"You're using her for information... "

"I'm paying her for information. Nobody's being used."

"And... how the hell can you afford to pay her every time? You're not rich."

"I don't pay her that much," I offered, but...

Lori was right.

I couldn't really afford to keep doing this. And at some point I realized that I was going to have to start getting more for my money, timewise. I knew that anytime I found her working the streets, it was because she needed cash ASAP for drugs, and if I picked her up instead of someone else, and did not give her money, I'd be taking her away from potential income! I'd have to find a way around that.

In my favor was the fact that Sheila actually liked me, and so she didn't mind seeing me occasionally, during her "off" time. I started planning get-togethers for lunch at McDonald's, Burger King, "pizza dates," etc.

It wasn't that difficult for Sheila to get away from her boyfriend. When he was home, he was usually sleeping. At other times, he would generally be hanging out with his buddies, getting stoned. So she and I met once, or sometimes twice, each week.

And finally, I talked her into bringing a friend to one of our little visits. I asked her to avoid any mention of the monetary aspect, hoping that the friend would talk a bit about herself and her lifestyle for the sake of being sociable.

It worked out well. The three of us split a large pizza and talked for about half an hour. Money well spent, thought I.

* * * * *

The friend's name -- well, actually, the name I'm going to use here -- was Julia.

Julia was probably between 30 and 35. (I never asked.) She was a short, cute Latina with a round face and a figure which -- although slightly overweight -- looked attractive in everything I ever saw her wearing. She had long black hair, always tightly pulled back in a ponytail. She didn't have an accent as much as an occasionally odd speech pattern.

Julia was a drug user, too -- sometimes cocaine, sometimes heroin -- but not an addict, remarkably. She was a little less reckless in general than a lot of the women I ended up meeting, as well, probably because she had a brother who was a policeman. (One of my unfinished "Dover Street" stories, plotted only about two years ago, deals with a hooker whose brother is an ex-cop. That's about the closest I've ever gotten to telling Julia's story.)

At our first meeting -- the one with Sheila -- Julia looked me straight in the eye after only five minutes or so and asked "Why you ask so many question? [sic] You writin' a book?" I laughed and said that I was, sort of. She laughed, too, and said. "Good subject. Drugs. Everybody like drugs."

I got together with Julia maybe twice a month. We'd talk. She wasn't really concerned with what I could or would pay her. A meal here or there was enough. She seemed to like my company.

She did try to talk me into becoming a customer, however. She liked teasing me. "Why don't you try me, just once? Don't you like the way I look?"

"Oh, hell, that's definitely not the issue!"

"So, what? You did dates with Sheila, right?"

Pardon another aside, but... For the two or three of you out there who don't already know this, a "date" is a euphemism for a sex act performed for money. A "trick" is the same thing. And both "date" and "trick" may also be used to refer to a customer, just like the word "john."

(Sometimes, when talking to a prostitute, I'd talk about "a woman I used to date" or "a woman I'm dating" and I'd get a funny look. I eventually learned to use the term "real date" when I was talking about taking a woman out to dinner or a movie.)

"I never did dates with Sheila." My eyes narrowed. "Why, did she tell you I did?"

"No, no. I just assume."

I was glad that her next question was not about how I met Sheila in the first place, if it wasn't a standard pick-up. Instead, she asked, "So, what is it? You don't like sex? Maybe you're gay?"

"No! I mean, no, I'm not gay. But yes, I love sex." Probably too much, I thought, but I saw no reason to share that little observation with her.

"So... " She grinned. "Store open all night!"

"I just don't like the whole idea of paying for sex. Not for me, anyway. I don't really care what anybody else does."

"Lotta guys say that. They think if you pay, it mean you can't get it no other way. Lotta the girls think that way, too. Most of 'em."

"I'd probably feel that way, too, if I ever did."

"Can you cook?"

"What?" Now, where did that come from, I wondered.

"You can cook?" she repeated.

"Sure, when I bother. Usually it's just me and the microwave oven, but... Yeah, when I want to. Why?"

"You go out to eat, too, right? Like McDonald's, or Chinese?" I smiled, anticipating her point. "You can eat for free at home, but you go out and pay for a meal? Why? Cuz you want to pay. Not have to."

"That's not quite the same thing... "

"Close enough."

We had similar conversations on other occasions. She said she considered me a "challenge."

One night, around 9 or 10 p.m., after Julia and I had enjoyed a meal at one fast food spot or another, she asked me if I'd mind dropping her off at her mother's place. I said I'd do so gladly. Her mom's apartment building had a large, uncomfortably dark parking lot in the rear of the building. As I pulled into the lot, I asked Julia if she wanted me to walk her to the door.

"No, thank you," she answered. "Shit!" she hissed suddenly.

"What? What's wrong?"

"My brother's car," she said, pointing to a car parked at the other end of the lot, close to (as I discovered later) her mother's back door.

"Your brother, the cop?"

She nodded vigorously. "I don't wanna see him right now! He's pissed at me! Can I wait here with you until he leaves?"

"No problem. I'm in no rush to be anywhere."

I rolled my driver's side window down a bit, and took my pack of Winston Lights out of my shirt pocket. "Want a cigarette?" I asked, as I took my lighter out of my right hip pocket and lit mine.

She was already taking a cigarette out of her own pack of Kool -- not Newport, but still menthol, I noticed, recalling Sheila's comment from weeks earlier -- and putting it between her lips. "Got my owns, thanks." She reached for my lighter, took it, and lit her cigarette. "He could be there for another hour or two." She smiled at me. "Don't worry, I won't make you wait so long."

"Thanks," I said, suddenly noticing that she was still smiling, but in a very strange way, I thought. Abruptly, she leaned toward me, threw her arms around me, and started kissing me! I was caught totally off guard. Luckily, we both had the presence of mind to place our respective cigarettes in my car's ashtray.

Ordinarily, I would have to describe our short little make-out session with a word like "passionate," but this was over almost before it had begun. I didn't even have the chance to get properly turned on before she released her hold on me and moved back to her side of the car.

Our cigarettes hadn't even burnt out yet!

She was still smiling. For a second or two, I wondered if she was hoping to get me worked up enough to finally take her up on her offer of play-for-pay, but instead of assuming that that had been her motive, I merely asked, "Uhhh... Julia... What the hell was that about?"

She lowered the passenger-side visor, hoping to find a vanity mirror, which she did. She'd taken a container of lip gloss out of one pocket or another and was applying some to her lips. "Just felt like it. I got no boyfriend, and I don't kiss my dates. Not like that! Am I good kisser?"

"You sure are," I replied truthfully, waiting for a follow-up offer from Julia which never came.

"If my brother doesn't leave soon, I just have you bring me home, okay?" she said, but after a few more minutes, he ended his visit.

As he entered his car and started it up, Julia lay down across the console and rested her head on my thigh. "Tell me when he go."

I waited until he'd driven out of the parking lot, and told her "You can sit up now," and she took her sweet time doing it. Then she gave me a goodnight kiss which was almost as ardent as those before, and ran across the lot to her mother's door.

As I exited the lot, I reached for another cigarette, and then searched in vain for my lighter.

Julia had forgotten to return it.

I shook my head as I drove away. I'd have to add stolen cigarette lighters to the cost of meals and outright hand-outs. I wondered if these expenses, all incurred in the name of research, were tax-deductible.

No, not really.

Then I thought back to the kissing session. What little game is she playing, I wondered, or is this a game?

And I not only had that to concern me, but earlier that evening, Julia had agreed to introduce me to even more of the Worcester streetwalkers.

It looked like my dance card was going to be pretty full in the upcoming weeks.

* * * * *

Next time: Get out your hip boots, folks. It's going to start getting deep!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter Two


This is a true story, but in the interests of full disclosure, I should tell you the following:

  • I went back and edited my last chapter, and among other things, changed the character of "Laura" to "Lori," because -- for various boring reasons -- I've decided to combine Lori with another real-life friend named Jennifer. Both had opinions about my involvement with Sheila and others whom you'll read about in this story. Semi-fictionalizing -- if that's even a word -- their involvement will also give me some leeway in writing dialogue which has largely been forgotten over time. An "honest cheat," as it were.
  • Speaking of dialogue, I've cleaned up a lot of it. Accuracy's one thing, but after a while, graphic over-use of the "F" word... and the "S" word... and the "C" word... and so on... can get a bit mind-numbing.
Last Time: A casual relationship of mine with a young woman named Sheila had been abruptly curtailed when I'd discovered that:

  • She had a rather unique profession, i.e., "the world's oldest."
  • She had a massive cocaine habit.
  • She had a large, surly boyfriend!
Any one of the above would be enough to disqualify Sheila from my lists of available dates, I suppose, but the combination of the three was a killer!

After my friend Lori had patiently listened to my telling her about the situation, she replied, "Well, anyway, it's a good thing you're done with her."

"Oh, I'm
not done with her. Not exactly."

Lori looked at me with genuine concern. "And what the hell do you mean by
that?"

This time:
What I meant by that. (Of course!)


* * * * *

I didn't answer Lori immediately, so she continued. "You just gave me a list of all the reasons you shouldn't see her again, and now you're saying you want to take all the chances you'd be taking by seeing her again?"

"I didn't say I was going to keep dating her," I began.

Lori interrupted. "Or whatever you'd call what you two were doing... "

"Very funny. I'm not going to 'see' her that way. I just said I wasn't done with her."

"This isn't one of your goofy revenge schemes, is it? You said you gave that stuff up years ago." She was referring to what little she knew of the so-called Irish Mafia.

"No! Don't be so freakin' dramatic. Besides, I have absolutely no reason to want 'revenge' on her, even if I were still involved in all that." Lori was still looking at me warily. "Actually, what I was referring to was a story idea I got the other night. "

"A story?"

"Yeah," I said, and at that point I proceeded to regale Lori with the basic plot of a story I called "Love for Sale." (I'll spare you the details, primarily because it'll probably show up on this blog sooner or later.) I'd read a few stories and seen a few films where some "john" (a hooker's customer) fell in love with a prostitute, or vice versa, and "Love for Sale" was my take on that whole idea.

My story took place in a very Worcester-like big city named... Well, I hadn't given it a name, but it was definitely not Worcester. And instead of having all the side streets off of Main Street for my hookers to walk on while plying their trade, I pretty much consolidated the streets into one: Dover Street. Where'd I get the name? I thought of a stupid, relatively unfunny play on words to which, sooner or later, at least one of the "Dover Street" characters will refer: "Bend Over Street."

I didn't know then that "Dover Street" would become an informal series, of course. At that point, "Love for Sale" was only one isolated story.

When I finished, she said, "Sounds like you have it pretty well plotted out. So what do you need her for?"

"Background information. What I know about the so-called 'street' is fairly limited. And I know even less about what it's like to be a drug addict. The people I've known have been mostly into alcohol and pot, if they did anything at all."

"You're saying you're going to use her for research?"

"Well, yeah."

"You're out of your mind."

"What else is new?"

* * * * *

Lori's forebodings to the contrary, my mind was made up.

Finding Sheila was predictably easy, as you may suspect. I spotted her late one cool spring afternoon, close to dusk. She was walking along Worcester's Main Street. I pulled over. She got in, but eyed me uncertainly.

"Hi," I said.

"Hi. What's up?"

"I've been looking for you."

"Well, you found me. How've you been?"

"Okay. You?" Dumb question.

"Same as always... Look, after the last time I saw you, I didn't expect to see you again. So what do you want?" Then she made a couple of rather blunt suggestions, adding "but I need money, so you gotta pay me."

"How'd you like to earn some money without having to do anything sexual for it?"

"Why so generous?" she asked, with a tone of suspicion in her voice.

"I didn't say I'd just hand it to you, I said how'd you like to earn some money?"

"Doin' what?"

"Talking."

"You're kiddin', right?"

"No. Don't you ever get guys who just want to talk?" She looked at me like I was insane. I felt awkward, suddenly. "I mean, I've seen movies where guys pay for a girl's time, and talk about their problems at home, or at their job, or... "

"You've seen movies."

"Yeah."

"Wow. I guess it does happen with some of the chicks out here, but not me." She started laughing. "So, you wanna talk about your wife, or your job?"

"Neither. Besides, I'm not married. You know that."

"I know what you told me."

"Why would I have lied about that?"

"Maybe I wouldn'ta taken you home if I'd thought you were married. Or at least, maybe you thought that. Guys lie." She shook her head. I was staring at her. I wish I could have seen the look on my own face. "Watch the road."

"Sorry."

"Don't be. Just don't get us killed."

I took a pack of cigarettes out of my shirt pocket. I withdrew one for myself, then asked her if she'd like one.

"Menthol?" she asked.

"No, sorry. Winston Lights."

"Good! I'll take one. Half the girls out here smoke Newports. They suck."

She used the lighter I handed her along with the cigarette pack and lit my cigarette as well. "Okay," she said, "Spit it out. What do you wanna talk about?"

I started asking her questions which would separate the reality of her situation -- and that of others who worked the streets -- from all the clichés I'd seen in movies, and on TV, etc.

At some point, however, I had to start watching the clock. I'd offered to pay her for her time, and had obviously thrown her off guard by doing so. If I were paying for her usual services, shall we say, she would have been right there with a list of (negotiable) rates for what she offered. But now, I figured we'd talked for ten -- maybe fifteen -- minutes, and wondered if twenty dollars would be enough this time, as well. (When I'd picked her up today, her boyfriend had been nowhere in sight. But that -- or should I say "he" -- wasn't the issue this time; I'd already said I'd pay her.)

I asked her where she'd like me to let her off, and she named a nearby side street. "Look, " she said, as I stopped the car, "could you wait for me while I run in and see a friend of mine, and then drop me at-- ?"

I interrupted her. "No. I'm not letting you back in this car once you go in there." I may have been more than a bit "green," street-wise, but I wasn't stupid. The "friend" was obviously a drug dealer she knew, and she wanted me to wait for her to score, and then take her home or to wherever she planned to use her drugs. I wasn't about to let her back in the car if I knew she had drugs on her person.

Sheila just smiled and nodded. I handed her twenty dollars. "Will this be okay?" I asked.

She nodded again, and then looked around us in all directions. "Hey, listen, it's gettin' dark. If you... umm... if you got another twenty... ?"

I had to laugh at the last-minute sales pitch. "No, thanks." She asked if I were sure about that, and repeated her offer in much more explicit terms, reminding me of our not-so-long ago past encounters... but I still found it relatively easy to say no.

As I drove away toward home, I started laughing at one of the more outrageous things she'd told me: She swore that she knew a drug addict who'd once hijacked a forklift so he could steal an ATM!

Now, how could I work that into a story?

I took my pack of cigarettes out of my pocket and searched for my lighter.

She'd forgotten to return it.

* * * * *

Lori was about as reproachful as I expected her to be. "And you didn't do anything with her?"

"Nope."

"You can tell me."

"I know I can. But there's nothing to tell."

"Easiest twenty bucks she ever made, I'll bet."

"Probably."

"Well, at least you've gotten that out of your system."

"Not really."

"Oh, terrific," said Lori -- much as you may be saying to yourself right now -- "now what?"

"I've gotten some more story ideas. I'm going to have to talk to her again, frankly, and... " I hesitated.

"And?"

"I'm going to see if she can put me in touch with some of her friends, as well."

* * * * *

Next time: "The more, the merrier," or the beginnings of my closest brush to date with "gonzo" journalism.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Introduction to the "Dover Street" Stories, Chapter One


In my "What to Expect... " section at the bottom of this blog, I say "Occasionally, there will be personal anecdotes that will only be able to be called 'stories' in a very loose sense, having no real plot, or no definitive ending, etc." This series of posts -- which, as the title says, is the story behind my "Dover Street" tales of prostitutes and drug addicts -- is one of those.

Hm. Hookers and junkies. What a pleasant way to segué into the Holiday Season, eh?

* * * * *

Anyone who read My Island on my David'Z RantZ blog may recall that in my youth, I was involved in some unspecified, low-grade -- but still dangerous -- criminal activities while I ran something which I light-heartedly called the "Irish Mafia." I was lucky enough to get out while I still could. Others, like a friend named Roger, weren't so lucky.

My involvement in these activities lasted about nine or ten years. I wish I could say that the Irish Mafia was the last time I put myself at serious risk, but it wasn't.

The nearest "big city" to the town in which I reside is the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester is quite often misspelled and/or mispronounced as "Worchester." It's also been written as "Wistah" or "Woostah" by those who think that they're helping you with the pronunciation. Ignore them. They may mean well, but they're among the ranks of those who only think they have a handle on the Massachusetts accent.

It's pronounced "Woos-ter;" the "woos" rhymes with "push" or "bush," not with "room" or "zoom."

But I -- oh-so-characteristically -- digress.

One afternoon several years ago -- circa 1992, 1993 -- I was running a few errands in Worcester. I stopped at a convenience store for something to drink. There was a rather long line at the one open register, and the cashier was competent but not overly speedy.

Ahead of me in line was a moderately attractive, black-haired young lady with a rather pronounced overbite. She reminded me of the Olympic skater, Nancy Kerrigan (remember her?) but with a slightly wavy Bettie Page hairstyle. She looked approximately five years younger than I was at the time, which would have put her in her early thirties. She was somewhat taller than I was, and much thinner.

Her overbite was the factor that made me decide to devote my waiting-in-line time to the pursuit of something -- *ahem* -- productive. (I know some of you saw that coming.)

I'm not one for so-called pick-up lines. I prefer striking up a genuine conversation with a woman, or what some guys have referred to as "working them."

In this case, finding a subject to begin talking about was easy. Her arms were filled with seven or eight different cans or bottles of iced tea. Nestea, SoBe, Lipton, AriZona, Snapple...

"Why so many?" I asked, pointing at the array. "And why all different brands?"

"I love iced tea, and I just wanted to figure out once and for all, which one's the best."

That made something resembling "sense" to me. I could have said the same thing, only I never went to the extreme of buying one of each to facilitate a taste test.

Allow me to cut to the proverbial chase, here. After some brief chatting with Sheila -- yes, Sheila, just like the streetwalker in my last post, "Angelina" -- she agreed to let me drive her to her home, which was not far away.

I'll spare you the details here, but suffice it to say that Sheila and I shared what was very briefly referred to as "afternoon delight" back in the 1970s. It was quite an enjoyable hour or so, but I left not sure whether we'd ever see each other again.

About a week later, I was in Worcester again, and decided that it was "worth a shot" to visit her once more. She seemed legitimately glad to see me, and invited me in for coffee -- What, I wondered, no iced tea? -- and the two of us reaffirmed our mutual interests in casual sex.

At the conclusion of this visit, she gave me her phone number, and said she would be keeping that number when she moved the following week. She wrote down her new address, as well.

Good thing she did give me the new address. For one reason or another, the old phone number did not make the move with her.

During the next month, Sheila and I saw each other two or three more times. (Re-reading that, I can't help but think, "Saw?" and follow up with an old Jack Nicholson quip, "Wrong verb.")

* * * * *

Sometime in the early 1990s, I became very close friends -- "very close" but platonic friends, I should probably mention -- with a young lady named Lori. Lori worked the second shift in a town called Shrewsbury. I occasionally visited her at work, and since the town of Shrewsbury was and is one of several that borders Worcester, I would drive through Worcester on my way to Shrewsbury.

[By the way, the character of "Lori" is actually a composite of two female friends of mine. I did this for a couple of frankly uninteresting reasons.]

That "drive through Worcester" took me the length of Main Street, past a bus stop near Clark University. As I passed through that area, I saw someone who either was Sheila or looked very much like her, standing at the bus stop. This was somewhere around seven or eight p.m.

One of the first things I asked Lori when I arrived at her workplace was "How late do the buses run in Worcester?"

"No idea. Why?"

"Well, do you know that bus stop by the little park near Store 24 and Clark University?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, I drove by there on my way here, and I could've sworn I saw Sheila at the bus stop."

"Who's Sheila?"

"I told you about her," I began defensively.

"Yeah, like I can ever keep track."

I ignored that, and continued. "Anyway, if the buses don't run that late, why would she be there?"

"I dunno, but why shouldn't she?"

"Well, for one thing, it's a well-known place for hookers to stand while hoping to be picked up."

She smirked. "And how do you know that?"

"I know a lot of things that go on in Worcester, smartass. I remember once when I was working on a Sunday at That's Entertainment, one of the hookers from Piedmont Street" -- a street which was also known for its druggies and prostitutes, located near the comic shop -- "came in and asked if she could get a cup of coffee."

"You sold coffee? In a comic store?"

"No."

"Then why... ?"

"Who knows? On one side of us was a restaurant, and on the other, a little ways down, was a convenience store. She could've gone to either for coffee."

Lori started laughing. "Maybe she didn't have any money, but she was willing to do a little something for a free cup?"

"Well, it's not like I had any coffee anyway! I didn't drink it then."

"Oh? When did you start?" she said, sarcastically.

"1990." She just stared at me. I nodded. "So, can we get back to Sheila?"

"Sheila?"

"The one at the bus stop!"

"Look, David, I'm sure the buses are still running. But... "

"But what?"

"But if you swing by that park after you leave here, and she's still there, maybe she really is... you know... "

My visit with Lori lasted for another couple of hours. After I left, I drove back through the heart of Worcester, and rode down Main Street until I passed the bus stop near Store 24, and...

Damn.

Sheila was still standing there.

She hadn't seen me. I could have kept on driving. I could have made a handful of assumptions about her, and just never tried to contact her again.

But no, not me. Not Mr. Closure. Not with my attitude of "I don't convict on circumstantial evidence."

I turned around in the Store 24 parking lot and drove back to the bus stop where Sheila was standing. I put on my directional and took the immediate right onto a side street. I pulled to the side of the road and stopped, but left the car running.

It was dark. I was sure she hadn't seen my face, and I was equally sure she couldn't recognize my car at night.

She came running over to the car anyway.

Shit.

She didn't even look through the window to see who'd stopped for her. She opened the door and jumped in. While the door was open, my car's interior light went on. For a split second, she saw my face, and I could clearly see the surprise on hers as she recognized me.

I drove away, wondering which of us would speak first. She did. At first, a strange sound came out of her mouth, almost like she was exhaling sharply. She cleared her throat loudly and tried again.

"Hi," she said.

"Hi," I repeated. "So... umm... What's up?"

Not too freaking awkward...

She opened up to me, reluctantly. Almost every sentence was a revelation. Yes, she was a hooker. (Thank the lord for safe sex practices, thought I.) It was the only way she could support her cocaine habit. (Oh, goodie. Another reason I would have stayed away from her, had I known.)

This was why she changed addresses so often. Landlords with short-fused tempers from dealing with other drug-addicted tenants before her. Not that she paid much rent beyond her initial outlay before moving into a place. After all, most of her money went toward buying the cocaine.

We talked for about five minutes before she'd told me pretty much all of what I had to know. I had driven relatively aimlessly for a while, but had now come back to the bus stop.

Before I had the chance to say anything as cliché as "Well, I guess this is good-bye," Sheila looked at me with a sudden, fearful expression on her face.

"Umm... uhhh... David, w-we got a... we got a problem!"

"How so?"

"Well, when you stopped for me, did you see that big, tall black guy across the street from here?"

"No, but what... " I turned to see if the "big, tall black guy" was still there. He was, looking like a clean-shaven, African-American version of the late actor Roger C. Carmel ("Harry Mudd" on Star Trek, among other roles). "Oh, shit."

"That's my boyfriend. And you and me were gone long enough to have done somethin', and if I don't bring no money to him... "

"Let me guess. He'll beat the crap out of you."

She nodded.

Practicality took over. Frankly, I was ten years older than when I'd last been in true "fighting form." And if I faced off against a man his size, he'd probably break me in half. "What's the minimum you can get away with?"

She was unnervingly matter-of-fact as she replied, "Well, we ain't been gone long enough for you to get laid, so twenty would be enough for-- " Nodding, I raised my hand to silence her. She didn't need to spell anything out for me.

I withdrew twenty dollars from my wallet, handed it to her, and watched her as she exited my car and trotted dutifully across the street to her boyfriend.

(And please don't attempt to correct me and say "pimp." He was her boyfriend. More on that in a later chapter.)

Anyway, the next time I talked to Lori, I told her about my little non-adventure. She couldn't stop laughing. "So, you ended up paying for it, after all."

"No."

She kept laughing. "Of course you did, David! You just paid for it after the fact, unlike the usual customers, who have to pay before."

I divided the twenty dollars by the number of times I'd been with Sheila. If I had indeed "paid for it," I'd gotten a great deal, overall. I went so far as to point that out to Lori, adding, "Anyway, that twenty dollars wasn't for anything that had happened previously. It was to keep her from getting beaten up."

"You should have let her get beaten up, after the way she lied to you."

"Damn, girl! Don't be so cold. Anyway, the only thing I'm really upset with her about is that she invited me into apartments which she presumably shared with him. He could have gotten home any time when she and I were... together... and found her doing it with some guy for free, in their bed! He probably would have snapped my spine!"

"What would he care? She cheats on him all day long, if she's a prostitute."

I shook my head. "Different set of rules, dear. In our world, the "real" world, sex is sex. You sleep with someone else, for any reason, and it's cheating. In their world, it's only cheating if it doesn't involve money, or maybe drugs."

"Well, anyway, it's a good thing you're done with her."

"Oh, I'm not done with her. Not exactly."

Lori looked at me with genuine concern. "And what the hell do you mean by that?"

* * * * *

Well, that's as good a place to end Chapter One. Chapter Two will be coming your way soon... well before next week. I'm going to schedule these segments really closely, just like I did with "Angelina."

See ya! I mean... Thanks for your time.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Once and Future AERO, Chapter Three!

Part Five ~~ Writing Someone Else's Character (or, The Return of Insect Man!)

I've written both amateur and professional comics, and regardless of the comic's status, I always have that inner feeling of excitement as I wait to see what the artist "gives" me.

This has been the case ever since my very first amateur comic book story, an issue of the "Insect Man" fanzine title. Insect Man -- heavily "borrowed" from Lana Lang's "Insect Queen" in DC's "Superboy" stories -- was a character that That's Entertainment's Paul Howley had created in 1965, when he was a kid. Paul drew several issues -- several dozen, actually, spin-off titles included -- on what we then called "math paper."

(Do the modern schools use -- or even have -- "math paper?")

In the mid-1980s, once Paul was a (nominal) adult and his That's Entertainment was a thriving business, the title which had ended its run as "Insect Man's Weird Tales" was revived, and the under-sized, photocopied black-and-white comics were sold to the customers at That's Entertainment... and eventually, elsewhere.

Insect Man himself didn't return until a few issues later, when he was rudely yanked from "retirement" by Larry Young. After Young, a handful of writer/artists took a shot at the hero, but no one stayed with him for more than a couple of issues.

I wasn't working for Paul yet. I was still "just" a customer, but I was fascinated by the fact that Insect Man had a history that went back about twenty years (at that time, that is). I'd always wanted to write for comics, and although this was unpaid "fanzine" work, it seemed like it'd be fun. I was a writer -- even at that tender age, I had a handful of commercial writing jobs under my belt -- but not an artist, so I couldn't get my story past the script stage.

No problem! Paul said he'd do the art chores himself!

I did a tremendous amount of "research" before I wrote my first issue. Paul had a copy of every issue he'd ever done, and I read them all. I made extensive notes on Insect Man's supporting cast, his personal history, his enemies. I decided which stories "really" happened, and which ones were "apocryphal" (like the one where I.M. stopped a gigantic villain who was terrorizing a city by dropping an "atomic bomb" on the creature... right in the middle of said city!).

Insect Man had had a sidekick named Kid Secret. I decided to bring him back into the storyline. I established that the former sidekick was now an adult, so when I.M. brought Kid Secret out of his own retirement, the "kid" re-named himself "Mr. Secret." (I liked the sound of that. It reminded me of superheroes like Mr. Scarlet, and Mr. Terrific.)

Sometime soon after I'd handed the script to Paul, he informed me that his honest assessment of his own art was that it wasn't good enough, so he'd given it to another customer who'd expressed interest in drawing it.

That customer's name was Ken Carson.

When I got to see the completed artwork, I was very impressed. Ken's stuff was definitely of a professional caliber. I ended up doing several issues of "Insect Man" with Ken, and a few other artists, too, but Ken was always my favorite artist to work with in terms of what he contributed to the stories, and especially how he translated my ideas onto the paper.

At this point you may be wondering why I've interrupted my own narrative about the creation of my "Aero" character, to jump back six to eight years and write about Insect Man.

Well, I had to explain about Insect Man, so you'd get to learn about Ken Carson.

Plus, it never hurts to give Paul's store a plug.

Part Six ~~ The Package from White Plains

Back to 1994.

I should probably mention here that by this time, for various reasons, I'd all but given up on the idea of "Two Heroes Comics" and was focusing instead on selling the "Silver Age Aero" series as a solo act, so to speak.

After a handful of letters & postcards (remember them?), as well as a couple of actual telephone calls, Dick Ayers and I had made all the arrangements necessary for him to begin work on the last three pages of the seven-page Aero origin story, entitled "Pressed Between the Pages."

So I waited. It didn't take him long to get them drawn, and to send photocopies to me. After all, the man was and is a professional. Of course, it certainly seemed like it was a long time to me. I was like a kid waiting for Christmas.

When the three photocopied pages arrived, I was totally bowled over. They were even better than I'd expected them to be. Dick had given me everything I'd asked for in the script, of course, but he'd thrown in several little visual touches of his own.

Dick hadn't lettered the pages. We'd agreed on that beforehand. It would have cost me extra, and I felt sure that I could find someone willing to letter the pages.

And I did.

Ken Carson.

Ken agreed to do the lettering for free. (What a guy!) He didn't even do the work directly on the photocopied pages themselves, perhaps slightly intimidated by the thought of working right on Ayers' artwork... even though it wasn't Dick's original art. He wrote all the captions on a stiff sheet of paper, and gave me two or three copies of that sheet.

When Ken had finished the lettering and gave it to me, he remarked that all of the caption boxes Dick had drawn in the panels were exactly the size that Ken had needed for my text. Almost like Dick had done this sorta thing before, ya know?

Now all I had to do was draft up some sort of cover letter which would explain the series to prospective publishers, and start mailing our little presentation to those publishers. I decided, of course, to send "Aero" to those publishers who catered to creator-owned projects, like Dark Horse, Renegade, Eclipse, and others.

Dick suggested sending the submission package to Topps Comics, because he'd worked for one of their editors, Renée Witterstaetter. Topps Comics handled mostly licensed features, like "The X-Files," "Zorro," "Jurassic Park," etc., so I didn't think it would be worthwhile sending "Aero" to Ms. Witterstaetter...

But you don't argue with Dick Ayers. I wasn't about to, anyway.

As it turns out, she was the only editor who replied that her company was interested. However, Renée wanted to see all seven pages of art. I quickly wrote back that the first four pages of "Pressed Between the Pages" didn't exist, but I sent her the full script.

And now... finally... without further ado... what all of these publishers got to see!

Part Seven ~~ The Script and the Submission

What follows is the script for Aero's seven-page origin story, accompanied by the original cover letter describing the series itself, and three pages of never-before-seen artwork by Dick Ayers (lettered by Ken Carson)!


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TWO HEROES COMICS #1
The Silver Age AERO
Story #1: “PRESSED BETWEEN THE PAGES”

Page One
Across the very top of the page, each creator’s name appears in its own, discreetly-sized block. For instance:
David M. Lynch
WRITER
This would be followed by the artist’s credit, and if additional people are used as inker, letterer, colorist, editor, (The latter two would depend on the eventual publisher.) etc., each person will receive his or her own “block” as well. There will be one final block in the line, reading, simply:
PRESENT:

Panel One
Panel shows a mostly-darkened bedroom. The only light is what filters in from outside, through closed Venetian blinds. A young man, Charlie, slumps dejectedly in a chair (medium shot), which faces the bedroom door on our left. He wears heavy boots. In his left hand he holds something, which could be a towel, or a washcloth, or gloves. (It’s a mask, actually.) What could be a coat, hanging on the back of his chair, is actually a cape. That’s for our information, to be used much, much later. The reader can barely tell what he or she is looking at, due to the poor lighting. Entering “through” the closed bedroom door is a word balloon, spoken by Charlie’s mother, on the other side.
Caption (Top): May, 1974.
Mother: Charlie?

Panel Two
Same as Panel One.
Mother: Charlie, are you awake?

Panel Three
Same. Mother has no “line.”

Panel Four
Same.
Mother: Aren’t you going to...? I mean, won’t Janice be waiting?

Panel Five
Same. Mother is silent.

Panel Six
Same.
Mother: Charlie...

Panel Seven
Same angle as before, but the “frame” has shifted slightly to the right. Charlie has risen from his chair. He walks to a bureau at the extreme right of the panel. Atop the bureau sits a portable record player. There are no separate speakers attached. The hard plastic unit looks something like a stylish, open suitcase, only not as wide.

Panel Eight
Medium close shot, side view, of record player’s turntable, with Charlie’s right hand in the foreground. Charlie’s actions are rather indistinct (due to the poor light), but he’s turning on the record player. Faint light from the window reveals that he is wearing a tight, seamed, suede glove, which touches and slightly overlaps the sleeve of his shirt. It’s not a normal shirt; it has no cuff.

Page Two, Panel One
Slightly different angle. Record player is almost directly facing us. Close shot of the record player’s built-in speaker, toward the bottom of the unit, in the center.
Music: “When I was young, I listened to the radio, waitin’ for my favorite song...”
Caption (Bottom)(small print): “Yesterday Once More,” © Almo Music Corp./Hammer & Nails Music/Sweet Harmony Music ASCAP

Panel Two
Caption (Top): I listened to the radio when I was a kid...
Charlie’s sitting in the chair again, in a medium shot as before, but now he’s facing us, as if we were standing in the bedroom doorway looking at him.
Caption (Bottom): And it used to be to hear my favorite songs...

Panel Three
Caption (Top): But now, it’s just to hear the news!
Close-up (still maddeningly indistinct, with no lights on!) of Charlie’s hands, neck, shoulders, and chest, as he attaches his cape to two snaps, sewn onto his shirt about six inches apart, at collarbone level.

Panel Four
“Splash” panel. Charlie, aged seven, is in his sister’s bedroom, standing in front of a nightstand. Every other piece of furniture (“every” meaning a bed and a bureau) is French Provincial. Charlie is staring at a similarly-designed (but much older and “boxier”) portable record player, which sits atop the nightstand. A short, fat piece of chalk is Scotch-taped to the tone arm, so records won’t skip. Charlie’s a short, skinny kid, with closely-cropped, sandy-colored hair, and he’s wearing a crew-neck shirt and shorts (not cutoffs). Beside him stands his sister, Marsha, six years older. She’s a bit chubby, with medium length dark hair. Marsha’s hair is pulled back in a ponytail, except for her bangs, which are curled. She stands about a foot taller than her brother. Both are laughing uproariously at the comedy record playing on the record player. A word balloon will be coming from the record player’s sole speaker.
Caption (Top): 1963.
“Free-Floating” Title (placed in most eye-pleasing location!):
PRESSED BETWEEN THE PAGES
...starring AERO!™
(The “AERO” logo should have a 1950s kind of “look” to it, like somebody’d made it out of “space-age plastic!”)
Word Balloon (from record player): And furthermore... Ask not what your parents can do for you, but what you can do for your parents!
Caption (Bottom): When your dad’s half Irish, I guess it’s inevitable that your whole family’s going to love everything about Jack Kennedy, even if it’s just a comedy record spoofing him.
Caption (Bottom, Below Other Bottom Caption) (small print): “Prez Conference,” © Beechwood Music Corporation BMI.

Page Three, Panel One
Charlie in his living room, back to the reader, standing in front of (and partially obscuring) a large TV set. The 3’ high black-and-white TV stands on short wooden legs. He ceremoniously holds up a glass of milk. The room’s light source is from the off-panel windows to the right of the scene.
Caption (Top): Every kid who watched “Big Brother” Bob Emery on Boston’s WBZ-TV, as I did, five days a week, would stand and toast the president... with his or her glass of milk.

Panel Two
Portrait of President Kennedy, shown on TV, complete with a seated Charlie’s reflection.
Caption (Top): My earliest memories of watching “Big Brother” included toasting President Eisenhower.
Caption (Bottom): Now JFK was the president. In fact, he had been for almost three years.

Panel Three
Charlie, medium shot, as seen from behind. He’s facing the living room wall to the right of the TV. He’s looking up at a (naturally) different portrait of JFK, which hangs about five feet from the floor. On either side of it is a window. Directly beneath the painting is a radiator that stands about two-and-a half feet high.
Caption (Top): We had our own painting of JFK. Whether it was because my Dad was Irish, or because my parents always voted Democrat, I may never know.
Caption (Bottom): All I know for certain is that JFK was a hero, to all the kids my age...

Panel Four
Charlie, in a schoolroom, sneaking a look at a comic book. In the background, thumb-tacked high on the classroom wall, are two-dimensional cardboard “busts” of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in silhouette.
Caption (Top): ...just like the astronauts, and like Washington and Lincoln...
Caption (Bottom): ...and like Superman and Batman...

Panel Five
Medium close shot of Charlie, at home, reading a Captain Aero comic from the 1940s.
Caption (Top): ...and Captain Aero.
Caption (Bottom): Yeah, that’s right, “Captain Aero!

Panel Six
Medium shot of Charlie, as in Panel Five, in background. In the foreground sits Charlie’s Uncle Ted, watching Charlie indulgently.
Caption (Top): Y’see, Captain Aero was an aviator, in these cool old 1940s comic books my Uncle Ted had...
Caption (Bottom): Uncle Ted. Another hero. To me, anyway.

Page Four, Panel One
Charlie, walking down a road, slightly behind a boy and a girl, both in their mid-teens, both with dark hair. Charlie wears a plaid, button-down shirt (buttoned all the way to the neck), black sneakers, and light-colored slacks.
Caption (Top): Anyway... it was November 22, 1963. I was walking home from the bus stop, and my next door neighbors were talking to each other, ignoring me.
Caption (Bottom): (I was just a kid, y’know.)

Panel Two
Medium close shot of just Charlie, as in Panel One.
Caption (Top): I heard them say a few things about ... somebody... who’d done something, or had had something done to him, and what he had been doing before that, and where his wife had been...
Caption (Bottom): I really don’t remember any of their conversation distinctly, ‘cause I wasn’t involved in it.

Panel Three
Charlie, entering kitchen, on left. Charlie’s mother, seated at a round kitchen table on the right. She looks sad, he looks shocked.
Caption (Top): But when I walked in the kitchen door, and my Mom told me that JFK, “my” president, was dead...

Panel Four
Charlie, seated in front of the TV, back to the reader. He holds a pad of paper in his lap, and a crayon in his left hand, although it’s hard to tell exactly what he’s doing, from this angle. I don’t want any of the childish, “ghoulish pictures” Charlie mentions to actually be shown!
Caption (Top): ...I sat and watched the endless news broadcasts about the assassination, drawing my own ghoulish pictures of my president bleeding all over his limo....

Panel Five
Close-up of Charlie’s face. His eyes are wide, like he’s in shock. Tears begin to trickle from his eyes.
Caption (Top): I knew this was the worst thing that could have ever happened, EVER, in all of history...
Caption (Bottom): ...and nothing like it could be allowed to happen again!

Panel Six
Medium shot of Charlie, on the right, sitting in front of the TV, which is on our left. The paper and crayon have both been dropped to the floor. Charlie is yawning.
Caption (Top): I thought not of my real-life heroes, but of Superman, and Batman, and Capt. Aero...
Caption (Bottom): ...and knew that they could have saved my president!

Page Five, Panel One
(Charlie is dreaming.) Medium long shot of JFK’s limo. Against logic, it is the first car in the presidential procession. JFK and Mrs. Kennedy are smiling and waving, oblivious to the nondescript man standing in the street, directly in front of the limo, aiming a rifle at JFK. The man should look average and nondescript, but not like Lee Harvey Oswald! Charlie has no idea what the alleged killer looked like at this point, nor does he know that Oswald supposedly fired from the book depository. Charlie, raised on cartoons and comics, dreams a much more direct confrontation.
Caption (Top): I fell asleep wondering why, out of all the superheroes in the world, nobody’d saved JFK!

Panel Two
Medium shot of “Oswald” firing his rifle at the president. From out of nowhere, a young boy has flown into the path of the bullet, which bounces off the boy’s chest. The flying boy looks like Charlie, of course, wearing what is basically a perfectly-tailored Superman costume minus its chest insignia, with the addition of a domino mask a la Robin, although Charlie’s mask matches his “Superman” cape, boots, and trunks.
Caption (Top): Somebody could have! Somebody should have!
Caption (Bottom): I would have.

Panel Three
Medium close shot, Oswald’s point of view, as “Super Charlie” flies menacingly toward Oswald.

Panel Four
Medium shot of Charlie, wrenching the rifle from Oswald’s grip.

Panel Five
Medium shot. Charlie swings the rifle like a baseball bat.

Panel Six
Medium shot. The rifle wraps around a startled Oswald like a piece of rubber... (this is a seven-year-old’s dream, remember!)

Panel Seven
(Medium close shot.) ...imprisoning Oswald!

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Page Six, Panel One
Medium shot of “Super Charlie” shaking hands with JFK, as Jackie looks on approvingly.
Caption (Top): The president and his wife were still thanking me for saving his life...
Caption (Bottom): ...when I woke up.

Panel Two
Medium shot of Charlie, on the floor, as in Page Four, Panel Six. He is obviously waking up.
Caption (Top): As I awoke, I again thought of Superman, and Batman...
Caption (Bottom): ...and Captain Aero. Like so many heroes before me, I knew what had to be done!

Panel Three
Charlie, back to us, running up a staircase. This staircase has no railing, but it has a wall on both sides.
Caption (Top): Superman had to travel from Krypton to Earth to become a superhero.
Caption (Bottom): I just had to run to my room!

Panel Four
Charlie stands next to his bed. On it are several comics, including a Captain Aero, which Charlie holds. The picture of Captain Aero shows him wearing a leather flight jacket, riding breeches, and a white scarf.
Caption (Top): The way I figured it, Captain Aero hadn’t been around for almost twenty years.
Caption (Bottom): (Besides, just like Superman and Batman, he was never really real, anyway!)

Panel Five
Charlie, rummaging through a bureau. He pulls out a pair of dark blue cut-off pants with one hand, and a short-sleeved, crew-necked pullover shirt with the other. The shirt is striped, with the stripes running sideways.
Caption (Top): So why couldn’t I be a new Captain Aero?

Panel Six
Charlie is kneeling in front of an open closet door, pulling out a pair of short, over-sized brown boots. In the back of the closet is a child’s ski set (two skis, two poles, all wooden).
Caption (Top): Well... maybe not a Captain. I’d only turned seven just six days earlier, so I was still pretty young yet.
Caption (Bottom): (Even younger than Robin!)

Panel Seven
Close-up of Charlie’s hands. From a top drawer in the bureau, Charlie pulls out a pair of tortoise-shell-rimmed sunglasses with his left hand, and a pair of bulky yard gloves with his right.
Caption (Top): The rising in rank could come later.

Panel Eight
Charlie holds up a square, black piece of fabric. Every so often, along its edges, the material is very slightly frayed. Charlie is pushing an open safety pin through one corner of the black fabric.
Caption (Top): For now, I could settle for being “just plain” Aero!

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Page Seven, Panel One (inset in extreme upper left hand corner of page)
Medium close shot of Charlie’s bed. Atop the comic books shown earlier, Charlie has thrown virtually all the costume components he’s been accumulating (shirt, shorts, “cape,” boots, sunglasses, gloves, and one of the wooden ski poles).
Caption (Top): My earlier ambitions had included doctor and fireman...

Panel Two (inset in upper left hand corner of page)
Same as in Panel One, but all the clothes, plus the boots, cape, sunglasses, and ski pole, are gone (presumably now on Charlie).
Caption (Top): ...But this time I knew I’d found my life’s work!

Panel Three/Splash Panel
Charlie stands facing the reader, wearing his new “uniform,” looking somehow absurd and heroic at once!

Panel Four (inset, in lower right hand corner of page)
Extreme close-up of the “modern” Charlie/Aero’s gloved hands, as he looks at a small picture of Aero, 1963.
Caption (Top): May, 1974:
Caption (Bottom): Damned if I wasn’t right.

Panel Five (inset, in extreme lower right hand corner of page)
Aero, 1974, in a pose very similar to that of Panel Three’s eleven-years-earlier pose. He is now in full costume. His pants and shirt are dark-colored (red). His gloves are seamed suede, as is his mask, which resembles a ski mask. Both are a lighter red, as is his cape (which hangs to his knees) and the stylized “A” insignia on his chest. The mask has holes for his ears (a la Captain America), mouth, and eyes, although the eye openings are covered with hard, tinted plastic. Additionally, the mask appears to be open at the very top, showing Charlie’s hair, but it’s actually a black wig, sewn onto the mask itself! (Charlie’s hair is light brown). His boots are calf-high, black, heavy, “normal” boots. His uniform has no trunks, nor belt. His shirt attaches to his pants with several snaps, even as his cape attaches to the shirt with the two snaps mentioned in Page Two, Panel Three. Thankfully, he no longer carries a ski pole, either!
Caption (Bottom): Stupid kid.


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Part Eight ~~ The Results?


Did you right-click on that thumbnail of page seven? If so, then you probably saw that bright red note from Renée Witterstaetter saying, "David -- I do like your story, but we aren't buying right now. Thanks, Renée." Umm, so, what, "right now" means "only as of, like, twelve minutes ago, since I told you a few days ago that I'd like to see more, which strongly implies that the reason I wanted to see more was to make a final decision as to whether or not we'd publish it?"

Okay, enough of that sour grapes crap. But really... !

So, the one publisher that had expressed any initial interest had turned us down. The next step was to assemble another small list of publishers and submit it to them.

Long-time readers of my "David'Z RantZ" blog may already be anticipating where this is going, if you're the type of person who keeps track of various timelines. ("Oh, great, this is where he's gonna make yet another reference to My Island, I'll bet!")

Well, this was the time that my friend Patty died -- shortly after it, actually -- and there were even more bad things going on in my life at the time... stuff that you'll probably never hear about unless I "semi-fictionalize" it and write about it someday. (Note: Don't hold your breath.)

Simply put, my personal life was about to go all to hell. For several months, actually.

So... there was no second set of submissions. Ever.

Pardon the honesty here, but my creative projects didn't mean diddly squat during that period, moody Irish motherf**ker that I am.

And so I guess you could say that Aero died stillborn. Or something.

Sorry to end on such a depressing note, but you all know that my stories don't usually deliver any kind of an uplifting feeling any-freaking-way... so if you want sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, stick to Lesley Gore.

Next week: You get to learn about a related series of stories called the "Dover Street" stories... and read the first one. Oh, and if you're a fan of Leonard Cohen? You may get a kick out of the little tale I've entitled "Angelina."

No, silly, not that Angelina.

Thanks for your time, and your indulgence.

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