Posts Tagged ‘Creativity Rules’

Romancista!

Friday, August 10th, 2012

There are times I wish I could be more forthcoming about the nuts and bolts of the work I do on these overseas jaunts. Often I feel (correctly) constrained from violating client confidentiality, but on the other hand, if the client is talking about me, well, I guess it’s okay for me to talk about me, too. With that in mind, here’s a picture and blog post from the website of Y&R Brazil, the Brazilian branch of the worldwide ad agency Young & Rubican, and that’s who I’ve been working for here.

Quite the art shot, huh? I couldn’t have conceived such an indulgence better myself. And here’s what they had to say about me (how’s your Portuguese? Mine is nonexistent, so I hope they didn’t say I sucked.)

“Romancista, escritor, roteirista de séries de TV como Married with Children, professor da UCLA e fera no pôquer. É isso aí, John Vorhaus é um cara cheio de talento e está aqui na agência para  dividir sua experiência com os Youngs.  Na pauta do workshop Ferramentas Criativas, estão criatividade e storytelling!”

As far as I can tell, I’m a romancista. Well, okay, I’ll buy that… whatever it is.

Apart from imparting my wisdom, I actually carved out a little time for sightseeing, notably from high at0p the Banespa Bank building in downtown Sao Paolo.

And if you get the impression from this that “downtown Sao Paolo” goes a long way, trust me, you don’t know the half of it. Here’s the other half.

And there are at least two other other halves beside this one but, well, you get the idea: big, big city. Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see — and traffic that boggles the mind. I thought we had it bad in Los Angeles, but Sampa teaches me that, really, I know nothing of traffic. But this is a cool place and a deeply vibrant one. As in so many countries, there’s a friendly rivalry between the main cities of Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro (which I didn’t get to visit this time, but damn well will next time). It’s clear that if you want to have a professional career in the place where everything is happening, then you have to be in Sampa, just like in America you can love San Francisco or Chicago all you want, but if you really want to be in the center, it’s LA or NY for you. This thought is not lost on Brazilians: hence the sprawl; hence the traffic. Everyone is here because, uh, everyone else is here.

And by the way, while the rest of the world is struggling with recession, depression, concession and regression, Brazil is rocking. Consensus is that this country is riding a rising tide of prosperity. Optimism is palpable. It’s great to see. You almost can’t be here and not be happy about the road ahead. It’s uplifting.

And if you’re not uplifted enough, how about a little sugar to start your engine? What you see here is fresh sugar can about to be squeezed into a cup for your drinking and sugar-rushing pleasure.

And… sigh… there goes my diet.

And… sigh… there goes my visit. Tomorrow I fly home, after a whirlwind week (well, less) in a place I’ve immediately fallen in love with and am already plotting a return visit. This city and country are special, and the people who live here know it beyond doubt. I’ll close this post with a picture of a bunch of people you don’t know, but there’ all my new best friends, and I look forward to seeing them again.

More later,  -jv

Everything Old is New Again

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Well, Campers, here I am in Sao Paolo, Brazil, and I’ve just come in from having a big walk around. I can’t tell you much about Sampa, except that it’s unreasonable large and that parts of it remind me of Tel Aviv (riotous street scene) and parts remind me of Bucharest (a little more attention to smooth pavement, please). What I can tell you about is my inner weather. All day long I’ve been haunted by the (good) feeling that “everything old is new again.” Maybe it’s because I’m on a new (to me) continent and in a totally new (to me) culture, but I can’t shake the feeling that this is really like the old days for me (like 1998, ’99), when these overseas jaunts were still a novelty and the mere act of being in a strange place was enough to get me seriously off. Followers of this blog will know that I’ve lost that feeling from time to time. It’s not that I’ve become jaded, except, okay maybe a little bit I have. Anyway, for some reason this place strips all the jaded away, and I’m walking around with the sense of wonder of a much younger man.

Just in passing today I noted the difference between being younger and being older. I fancy that it’s worth sharing here: Being older means you know more and care less. I don’t know if that’s true or not. It sounds like one of the (many, many) things I say that sounds like it might mean something and then you look at it closely and realize, hey, not so much.

Here’s one thing I know about Sao Paolo: people make eye contact. It’s weird and disconcerting if you’re not used to it, but you can be walking down the street and find yourself being “recklessly eyeballed” by all and sundry. Now me, I’m a reckless eyeballer from way back, but I’m so used to that being a one-way relationship. Here, out on the street, people are checking me out as relentlessly as I them (so much so that I sometimes think they’re flirting which, alas, they are not). I was told that this was the case, but didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own, er, eyes. Why it should be I cannot say. Does it speak to an open and connective society, or just a general prurient interest in one another on the street? Dunno. I’ve only been here a day. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll have it all sorted out.

In the meantime, two pictures. This first is from my hotel hallway, outside the elevator.

And that’s good advice, no? Note that this warning has been required by municipal code since 1997. I guess there were a lot of elevator accidents theretofore.

This next shot is from a toy store here in Sampa, and it just tickles me that the game that informed my childhood a damn long time ago is still out there doing its thing, forcing people to choose between the Rota Segura (the safe path) and the Rua do Risco (the risky path). Same as it ever was, my friends, same as it ever was.

For me the Rua do Risco. Always was, always will be. Because everything old is new again, and as long as I follow the unsafe path, no matter how old I get, I will stay new, too.

More later,  -jv

An Excerpt From My New Sitcom Book

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

world premiering here and now…

What is Comedy?

Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long to say it, but comedy is cruelty. A thing isn’t funny to the person it’s happening to. It’s funny to the rest of us watching. Tell me you haven’t been funny a thousand times by making yourself the butt of your own joke. “I’m so stupid I couldn’t pass a blood test.” That’s you being cruel to you for the benefit of others. Seriously, that’s really all you need to know about writing comedy. Find a character. Put him in a bad situation. And then make the bad situation worse. So then –

Wait, wait, hang on. I’m just sitting here wondering why comedy is cruelty and you know, I can’t think of a good reason. I did, though, think of a joke.

In the years before World War II, in a little Polish village, a learned rabbi used to teach his students, “Life is like the ocean.” And they would nod and respond, “Yes, life is like the ocean.” One young student was particularly taken with this philosophy, and he carried it with him through the long years of the war, which he barely survived. Later becoming a rabbi in his own right, he moved to Philadelphia, and taught all his eager young students, “Life is like the ocean.” Year after year, “Life is like the ocean.” And they would nod and respond, “Yes, life is like the ocean.” One year, though, a student asked, “But Rabbi, why is life like the ocean?” And the rabbi had no answer. Why is life like the ocean? The question haunted him. It plagued him so much that eventually he returned to his home village, hoping against hope to find his teacher still alive. Incredibly, the rabbi had survived the war, though now was quite old and in fact lay on his death bed when the young man arrived. He knelt by the old rabbi’s side and entreated, “Rabbi, Rabbi, why is life like the ocean?” The old man looked at him through watery eyes and replied, “Okay, so life isn’t like the ocean.”

Now, who’s getting the cruelty here? Is it the hapless young rabbi who invests his life’s work in an empty premise? Or is it the reader, who expects some sort of significant payoff and gets a smirky slap in the face instead? Actually, it’s both. They’re two sides of a certain coin. The young rabbi gets an unpleasant surprise, while the audience gets a startling defeat of expectation.

I’ll tell you one more joke to illustrate the point.

These three ducks walk into a bar. They go up to the bartender and order drinks. The bartender says to the first duck, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Huey.”

“Yeah? How’s it going, Huey?”

“Not too bad, you know. Into puddles, out of puddles, into puddles, out of puddles all day long. Not a bad day for a duck.”

Huey goes off to the bathroom. The bartender goes to the second duck and says, “What’s your name?”

“I’m Dewey.”

“Yeah? How’s it going, Dewey?”

“Not too bad, you know. Into puddles, out of puddles, into puddles, out of puddles all day long. Not a bad day for a duck.”

Dewey goes off to the bathroom. The bartender goes down to the third duck and says, “I suppose you’re Louie.”

“No,” says the duck, “I’m Puddles.”

I’ll bet you did not see that coming. So the punchline defeated your expectation, but that’s not why the joke works. The joke works because of poor Puddles. We feel his pain. And since it’s his pain, not our pain, we can go ahead and laugh. Poor Puddles.

Now here’s how this plays out in sitcom. (Notice I still haven’t said why comedy is cruelty. Maybe I’m hoping you’ll just let that slide.) To delight our audience, we consistently make our characters miserable, and to make our characters miserable, we just invent other characters designed to give them the worst possible time. Let’s have a peek at Big Bang Theory’s Leonard. Who makes his life hell? For sure you’re going to say Sheldon, whose idiosyncrasies, phobias and Roommate Agreement daily drive Leonard up the wall. You should also say Penny, for while she’s never intentionally cruel to Leonard, she is the object of his unrequited love, and her very presence in his world gives him grief of the deepest kind, because it destabilizes his worldview that “the nerds are alright.” I don’t think Howard really makes Leonard miserable – but look who makes Howard miserable: that’s right, his unseen mom. You could profitably go around from character to character in that sitcom, or any successful sitcom, and make a list of who makes them miserable and how.

Notice that these lines of cruelty run in much the same directions as the lines of conflict we discussed earlier. That’s not by accident. The same things that drive the narrative drive the comedy. If you have a story with lots and lots of problems for your main character, you also have a story with lots and lots of jokes, because each one of those problems will make that character suffer and comedy is cruelty, so there you go.

I don’t want to go too deep into this (I’m well over my head already) but not only do comedy and story line up together here, so does theme. This is because the truth is revealed under pressure, and no character will move from denial to acceptance of the theme – admit the truth, that is – without sufficient pressure forcing him to do so. That pressure moves the story along. And it generates the jokes. And it drives the character to new understanding. That’s some triple-duty pressure there. It’s pretty marvelous stuff.

Are you worried about being cruel to your characters? Don’t be. They’re characters in a story. They don’t really exist and you can’t really hurt them. If you ever find yourself holding back, it could be a case of conflict avoidance. Many writers are conflict avoiders in their real lives. I am. You might be, too. I can’t say from here, and sure don’t want to get in a fight over it, but I do know that to make real people laugh, you have to make fake people ache. So if you’re averse to cruelty, you’d better get over that, or you’ll never be sufficiently funny on the page. Comedy is cruelty. If you want to be funny, you’d better be cruel.

So, are you still waiting for me to tell you why comedy is cruelty? Hey, I’m a knowledgeable guy, I should be able to pull that off. Maybe I’ve studied the world’s great humorists: Aristophanes, Shakespeare, Twain. Maybe I’ve peered into the depths of my own soul and sought the answer there. Maybe I have found out why life is like the ocean. But you know what?

The exercise is left to the reader, ha!

More later,  -jv

Anchored Down in Anchorage

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

I’m having an odd sort of flashback.

I’m on a plane over Canada, flying up to Anchorage to address the Alaska Writers Conference. This plane is like many planes I’ve been on in my professional life, like any plane whisking me to Managua or Moscow or wherever. And, as usual, I have a laptop open on my tray table. I’m either working or not working. Knowing me, I’ve probably just finished playing a game, or just about to start. It’s how I fly: I should be working, and sometimes I am, but often I’m not.

Usually on these gigs in wherever, I’m arriving as the expert from out of town, the consultant expected to teach and train writers (possibly even enlighten writers) but not necessarily to be a writer himself. And there have been many, many times in the past when I frittered away all the hours on the flight doing two things: not-writing, and feeling guilty about not-writing. I understood that, as a hard working and dedicated teacher and trainer, I had a pretty damn good excuse for not, at that moment, being a writer. Yet I felt guilty. Down deep in my heart, I felt like a fraud, and simultaneously loved and hated having a handy excuse for not advancing on my own writing front. And felt guilty. Like I was letting myself down, and really not living up to my reputation.

I recognize in this moment that this feeling of guilt is gone. I have finally, finally, written enough, achieved enough as an author, that I no longer feel like a fraud to me. No one can doubt my body of work. It’s there. It exists. There’s simply no way they can pin upon me the label of “those who can’t do, teach.” I do. I do plenty. I teach, too. So as I sit on this flight, monkeying with my next novel, I need not fear flying into a situation where someone asks, “What have you done for you lately?” I’ve done plenty for me. I still am. I’m the writer I always wanted to be. It’s a pretty sweet feeling. It’s nice to leave guilt behind.

I’m finally starting to fill the bottomless hole. It’s not full, but it’s not empty, either, and I, at last, seem to recognize that. I’m either growing up or growing old. From here at 35,000 feet, it’s hard to tell which.

Anyway, Alaska. More writers to meet and teach, more pulp to push, more sights to see. I’ve never been to Alaska before. I hear they have moose.

More later, -jv

1000 New Words by Christmas?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I’ve been having fun making up new words lately, sort of as a hobby or a mental exercise more fruitful than Sudoku. Some recent goodies…

Gagnostic. Someone who believes God’s a joke.

Panticlimax. A dry hump.

Rantiquity. An old, old argument.

Hobotheosis. Elevation of the bum.

Wordsword. When you can’t say anything nice, use this.

Not all of ’em are winners of course, but, to quote myself, “Is the point of the game to win? Or to have fun?” And I’m having fun, so much so that I’m contemplating giving myself the challenge of coining 1000 new words by Christmas. These I can then package, I suppose, and sell as a slender ebook, A THOUSAND NEW WORDS BY CHRISTMAS, VOLUME 1 (which would set me up for more of same mayhem next year, but whatever.) I think I may do it, for I’m like a dog with a bone with these things, but on the other hand, will I kill the fun of it when it becomes an obligation? Or maybe I’ll just do as many as I can, and then package them as, say, 475 NEW WORDS BY CHRISTMAS. No one will know except me and both of you, my readers. So what do you say? All in favor of new words say, “Neologos!” The neologos have it. More later, -jv

A Short Treatise on Time Shares and Hard Times

Saturday, July 23rd, 2011

In a moment of weakness, Maxx and I went to a time-share presentation. It wasn’t horrible, and we got some lovely parting gifts, but it did go on and on…and on and on. The goal, of course, was to grind us down to the point where a terrible investment looked like a good one. Never happened, but whatever…

The thing that struck me is that we had 14 different people dealing with us at one time or another. That’s a LOT of wages to pay, not to mention the lovely parting gifts, transportation, meal, facilities, etc. It’s an expensive proposition, trying to get the suckers to sign on the line that is dotted, and it must work well enough to pay for all that overhead, because this organization was doing a TON of presentations. Guess there are a lot of suckers out there. Well, no news flash that.

Economically it makes sense. You’re bringing in fresh money from outside the state of Quintana Roo, and if you can do that on a consistent and ongoing basis — which you can when you’re a tourist destination like Cancun — then you have a thriving economy. And this, of course, is exactly the pickle America is in right now. Where is our source of outside revenue? China is lending us money like crazy, but that doesn’t build an economy. We have tourists, but not enough to impact our economy. And what we make and sell overseas can’t compete against what everyone else makes and sells overseas. So we end up with a pretty closed economy. It’s just us selling to us and us buying from us. Whence comes our growth?

As I’ve blogged before, I think it’ll get worse, for globalization is creating a globally closed economy. When we all become citizens of the world, it’ll all be just us selling to us and us buying from us. We really need the Martians now. Specifically, we need Martian tourists — lots and lots of them who have never been to Disneyland and don’t mind paying inflated prices because the Martian Glorx is such a strong currency right now.

Of course, if that happened, if Earth became an acclaimed tourist destination, then we’d be reduced to hustling the Martians for time-shares (“Tierra del Fuego is lovely ANY time of year!”) and that might not be so good.

I don’t know where I’m going with any of this. It’s been a solid week of nothing but sun, sand, reading, shelling, swimming, quaffing umbrella drinks and stewing in my own juices. My brain is a little cheesed. Well, it must be if I thought that visiting a time-share presentation was in any way a good idea.

At least I didn’t sign on the line that was dotted.

More later, -jv

What Do You Think of This?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

I’m writing my memoir. It’s called BUT IT’S FUNNY IN RUSSIAN: A WRITER’S ADVENTURES IN TEACHING OVERSEAS. I’m posting the first chapter here, and I’m interested to know what you think. Do I sound snarky? Sincere? Is this a book you’d invest time and coin in? I welcome your comments here, or via email through the link you’ll find on this page. Tyty. -jv

ONE: MR. NEEDY

The story starts with a job I couldn’t hold.

It was the late 1980s and I was writing for a situation comedy called Charles in Charge, not the original network show but its reincarnated syndicated cousin, starring the estimable Scott Baio as a college student-slash-nanny to three problematic tweens. I had scored big with a freelance episode called “Dorm Warnings,” in which Charles gets fed up with family life and moves into a college dormitory with his buddy, Buddy (the somewhat less estimable Willie Aames), and hilarity – as it so often does in sitcoms of a certain ilk – ensues. I’d also written an episode called “May The Best Man Lose,” which featured, as God is my witness, a dunk tank. On the basis of these twin triumphs, I was offered a six-week contract as a staff writer for the rump end of the 1987 season, running from late October until the Christmas wrap. This was my first staff job on a TV show and I was agog at the pay: $2,000 a week, which was big money in 1987 dollars and not chump change even today. (more…)

The Doo Dah Bookfest

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Hello Campers,

I had a fun weekend here in sunny SoCal, dropping in on the semi-famous Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena on Saturday, and rocking the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books on Sunday. At the latter I signed a bunch of books and pontificated most punditally on a panel (on writing comedy, natch). At the former, I just sat in the crowd, agog, as tortillas and marshmallows (the traditional projectiles of the Doo Dah Parade flew.

Brief photo essay:

Well, this wasn’t really from the parade, but from my pre-parade breakfast at Denny’s. We live in a perfect world, folks; you can get bacon on your sundae.

Everything old is new again at the Doo Dah parade.

And even dogs get into the act. Meanwhile, at the LATBF…

…I signed books at the Vroman’s tent (note the fan agog in the background — as if.)

…signed somewhat less frantically after my panel appearance.

…a panel I shared with (l. to r.) Don Winslow, Lee Goldberg and Thomas Perry, estimable authors one and all. Thanks especially to Lee for moderating so immoderately.

And so how do you feel about the death of Osama Bin-Laden? Me, I feel, well, not much of anything at all. I can’t see it making much of a difference on the geo-political scene, can you? I mean, it’s not like those with a suicide-bomber bent are suddenly going to say, “Well, that’s over, we can all go home now.” If anything, I imagine it’ll fan the flames.

Oh, like those flames need fanning.

You know what? That’s too bummeresque for a pleasant Sunday night. Let’s go back to the Doo Dah. This here is Snotty Scotty and the Hankies.

And on that musical note, let’s say…

More later, -jv

JV TV SD

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

What a long yesterday. I got up at 4:00 a.m. to drive to San Diego to appear on a couple of morning talk shows, then had to kill the whole day down there before an in-store appearance at the Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore. Well, fortunately, there are card rooms in San Diego, so killing the day proved to be no problem. Even better, the TV appearances drove some traffic to the in-store, plus a whole bunch of other people came and it was just a fun, lively, wonderful evening of writers talking about writing, cracking jokes, eating cake and (me) selling a ton of books. Really one of those moments that makes the whole book launch thingie feel worthwhile.

One of the TV shows was kind enough to give me a recording of my appearance, and I’ve posted it to YouTube. If you want to see me working a completely lame version of the Hat Trick proposition bet, complete with bogus invisible magical straw, do please click here. If you want to do something else, do that instead. If you haven’t yet ordered/bought/read/enjoyed The Albuquerque Turkey, what are you waiting for? It’s the book that The Literate Kitty called “all-out satisfying feel-good fun,” and while I don’t generally take the word of cats, in this instance I believe I shall.

More later, -jv

Another Albuquerque Excerpt

5          HOW MANY SOLIPSISTS

If your father walked out on you when you were eight years old, how much of him would you remember? Of Woody I remembered much. The way he always smelled of Old Spice and the panatelas he smoked. The hand magic he could do, like making a quarter disappear (and then not giving it back, to teach me a lesson in credulity). The frequent, unexplained absences, which I realized long after the fact were either undercover stints on the snuke or time in jail. And then the final big disappearance, which he made worse, I think, by perpetrating the false hope of his imminent return. This he did with a string of postcards that, as a sort of running gag, bore portmanteau photographs of that mythical western critter, the jackalope, all furry haunches and grafted antlers. They often contained handwritten riddles like –

Q: How many solipsists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Who wants to know?

– and were all signed the same way, “Yours, Woody.” Not “love,” note. My father could lie the creases off a co-ed’s culottes, but the useful fiction of affection escaped him. He knew he couldn’t sell it, so he didn’t try. Nor had I any illusions. My mother and I were never more than appendages in his life, of that we were sure. And appendages break. The postcard flow dwindled over time, then petered altogether out.

Later, when I started on the snuke, word of his adventures occasionally reached me by roundabout means. I’d meet a grifter who knew a grifter who’d worked a government grants thing with him, or a Jake who’d note a resemblance and say, “You’re not that son of a bitch’s son, are you?” I often wondered if word of my exploits ever reached him. Was he proud that his son had followed in his roguish footsteps? Or could he not give a rat’s ass? I tried to track him down once, just for drill, but apart from the aggrieved screeds of several women who’d discovered themselves to be his coetaneous wives, I didn’t get close. When you’re a master of the vanishing act, it’s no trick to stay lost. As to how he’d found me, I didn’t bother to wonder. The way I’d been lighting up the media with my name and picture, I was practically on MapQuest.

“Ouch, shit!” That’s me savaging my thumb with a hammer instead of hitting the little wooden dowels that connect the kickboard bracket of the Reåd shelving system to the left and right support struts. And that’s because I’m thinking more about my father than about hammers and dowels – and lying to Allie with my silence, which is making me edgier than I let on.

I don’t know why I didn’t just come right out and tell her. Maybe I thought she wouldn’t believe me, would just tab the revelation as “intrigue for the sake of intrigue.” Or if she did believe me, what then? She’s supposed to welcome my biggest inspiration and worst influence with open arms, just when we’re clinging to so frail a valence of normalcy? She didn’t know my father. Okay, hell, I didn’t know my father, either, but it seemed unlikely that he’d pack a whole big mess of normal in his Gladstone. That’s not how he rolled.

Plus let’s not forget he was wearing a dress.

But the alternative, I realized as I sucked the sting out of my thumb, was to deny Allie critical information about the goings-on inside my head. Not quite in the class of an alcoholic sneaking a drink, but sneakiness of a sort just the same. I figured if I was so unwilling to clue in my beloved to the sudden strange appearance of my own flesh and blood, this in itself was a sign that I’d better come clean.

So I did. I was really afraid she’d see it as a setup of some kind, another Hoverlander effort to scrub Operation Citizen, but all she said was, “We’ll have to invite him to dinner.”

“Not a good idea,” I said.

“What, you don’t think he’ll like me?”

“Did you not hear the part about the dress?”

“So he’s trans. I’m not gonna hold that against him.”

“He’s not trans.”

“How do you know?”

How indeed? After all, after all these years, my dad could not have been much more than a shadow in my mind, the sum of my recollections and his reputation. Still, there are some things you know in your gut. I didn’t know Woody, but I knew him. Or let’s say that if the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, then the apple can learn much about the tree just by considering itself. Had I come to town looking for me, so garish a lady costume would not be transvestite plumage.

It would be camouflage.

Because the thing is, when most people look at you, they don’t really see you at all. They judge a book by its cover absolutely. Grifters know this, which is why you so often meet them in costumes of one sort or another. Business suits. Coveralls with nametags. Uniforms. Whatever helps them sell what they want you to buy. Most people looking at my dad in a dress would reach the cursory conclusion I’d first reached: this is one serious frump. Then they’d look away, which would be exactly his goal. How do you hide in plain sight? You thwart the urge to seek.

From this I surmised that Woody was being sought. Not so huge a leap. Even from my dim and distant childhood, I could remember instances of him working very hard to deflect the attention of one irate mark or another, which need will arise from time to time when a grift slides sideways. One whole summer he never ventured out of the house without carefully cloaking himself in the fatigues and demeanor of a disabled Vietnam veteran, right on down to the shrapnel limp and loud colloquies with the voices in his head. I thought it was cool: Daddy plays dress-up. But the strategy was sound, for whoever might be after him would take one look at the post-traumatic stress victim, think, well that sad casualty’s not him, and turn their searching eye elsewhere.

“So we’ve got dad on the lam,” I said. “From whom and for what we currently have no clue, but he’s working the shade and fade damn hard.”

“Why is he even on the street at all?” asked Allie. “Wouldn’t it be safer just to lie low?”

“Safer, sure, but a trap of a different sort. You know this, honey. Once you lose your freedom of movement, you lose your options. Holing up just puts you in a hole.”

“True,” she nodded. She settled down onto the living room couch and I paced nearby, each of us doing what a grifter does when presented with a puzzle like this, mentally teasing the pieces into place. Presently, Allie said, “Since he’s not lying low, he must really want to see you.”

“Not want. Stronger than want.”

“How so?”

“We’ve been estranged forever. Now he gets wind of me on the six o’clock news or wherever, and maybe this sparks some father/son nostalgia in his mind. He can’t know how I’ll react to seeing him. If he has the time, he tests the water first. Email, phone call, maybe a jackalope postcard.”

“What kind of postcard?”

“Nothing. Never mind. All I’m saying is, no test, ergo, no time.”

“Does he know how good you are?”

“Let’s say he does.”

“Then he needs help.”

“And rates me as the Red Cross.”

“So, how do you feel about that?”

“Allie, I don’t know. I know I’m supposed to be carrying all these abandonment resentments, and maybe I do and just don’t know it. But knowing what I know about him and about me, I figure that to hate him is to hate me. As far as I can tell, we’re chips off the same block.” Boy ambled in from the kitchen and taunted me with the tennis ball in his mouth. This particular slobbery brand of tug-of-war, where Boy chomped his ball in a death grip and Allie or I tried to pry it free, had emerged as one of his favorite games. He’d play it as long as our patience would last. He usually won, too, since the only way to get the ball out was misdirection, and Boy’s elemental brain did not respond too quickly to trickery. He was like a certain stripe of mook: too dumb to fool. I grabbed the ball and yanked to no particular avail. We growled at each other. It was fun. “Part of me is flattered,” I said. “My dad was always kind of legendary, you know? I mean, highly regarded in his circles. The two words you mostly heard were ‘creative’ and ‘fearless.’ I guess if he’s coming to me for help…”

“Then that’s acceptance.”

“Acceptance, yeah. But trouble, too.” Allie’s arched eyebrow encouraged me to continue. No doubt she’d already formed her own hypothesis about what kind of trouble a runaway Hoverlander could cause, but she wanted to hear it from me. “We’re supposed to be going straight, right? I have no idea what direction Woody is headed, but I’ll bet my bankroll that straight isn’t it.”

Allie mulled this for a moment, then asked, “What’s that stupid thing I’ve heard you say? ‘Make the latest possible decision based on the best available information?’”

“Oh, that’s stupid, is it?”

“A little, yeah. But why don’t we do that? Wait awhile. See what happens. After all, he may not even contact you. Maybe he just wanted you to know he’s out there.”

“Maybe he just wanted a bunk bed.”

I deked Boy with disinterest. He let down his guard, the ball came free in my hand, and I’d won another round of How Dumb is a Dog? This, however, left me holding a soggy tennis ball, so who’s to say who won? I threw the ball and Boy bolted after it with a dog’s abandon, scuttling across the hardwood floor and banging sidelong into the far wall. Then Allie took up the game and I returned to my Reåd. By midnight, I’d wrestled the bookshelf into shape, and it stood upright in the middle of the room. On a handiness scale of ten, I’d rate myself a six; there were pieces left over. But Allie cast approval on my effort. We were just discussing placement options when a knock at the door startled us both.

It was Vic, as nine and a half times out of ten it would be, and he waltzed in with no thought to the hour, for Mirplovian logic held that if he was awake, then everyone was.

“It’s not like I didn’t check the lights,” he said. “My only concern was you two randy rabbits might be screwing, and who wants to see that?” At this point he noticed the bookshelf. “I like it,” he said, appraising it critically. “Very nice. Very conceptual.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked.

“The installation.”

“Vic, it’s a bookshelf.”

“Against the wall it’s a bookshelf. In the middle of the room it’s art. You should drape it. Drapes are big right now.” Then, executing a deft conversational pivot, he said, “Hey, check it out,” and rolled up his left shirt sleeve to reveal on his arm a paisley shaped teardrop with a hole in the middle, like the eye on a curvy sperm.

“Vic,” marveled Allie, “you got ink!”

“Yeah, I did,” he said proudly.

I didn’t bother asking why, for clearly this was the next iteration of his artist presentment. See what I mean about costumes? Meanwhile, I thought I recognized the image, but… “Vic,” I asked, “where’s the rest of it?”

“What rest? That’s it. A yin. Half a yin-yang. Totally conceptual.”

“Hurt that bad, huh?”

“Like a motherfuck. I couldn’t even finish. I thought I was gonna pass out.” He cast an admiring glance at his own shoulder. “It is conceptual, though.”

“It is,” I said. “I’ll grant you that. Have you named it?”

“Named? Ooh, no, I hadn’t thought of that.”

“I suggest Half Wit.”

“Ha-ha,” drawled Vic, then pirouetted once again across topics. “By the way, who’s the dude?”

“What dude?”

“The guy across the street. If he’s trying to not be seen, he’s doing a lame-ass job.” Vic snickered. “About as lame as his drag.”

I didn’t bother looking out a window to confirm this, for even a Mirplo at his most conceptual couldn’t conjure a cross-dressing lurker out of thin imagination. Then again, just how off my game was I that Vic caught on to the gaff quicker than I had? This business of going straight had its downside in terms of staying sharp. I turned to Allie. “New information, doll. Now what?”

Before Allie could reply, the doorbell rang. Allie shrugged. “Now?” she said. “Now we answer the door.”

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