Posts Tagged ‘Creativity Rules’

Tax Day

Monday, February 28th, 2011

My keyboard is getting wonky. It’s not the batteries; I’ve changed them and I know they’re fresh. It’s just that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the keyboard ssssssticks and ssssstutters. Perhaps it’s coming to the end of its useful life after nearly a decade of enduring coffee spills and many meals carelessly eaten over it (including my latest obsession, plain, dry oatmeal — go fiber! Kill that cholesterol!) Well, whatever. I’ll stumbbble along the best I can until the hardware absolutely and positively gives up the ghost. Man, yo spend eighty bucks on something in 2001, you really expected it to last.

Today is Tax Day. Maybe not where you live but where I live — at least where I live inside my mind. See, I’ve always had a problem with procrastination. I never got the hang of it, and have been obsessive about finishing things early for as long as I can remember. No, not, as long as I can remember; rather, exactly and precisely since fourth grade.

I had been out sick from school for a couple of days, and somehow it escaped my attention that my report on Ponce de Leon was due. (You remember Ponce – the fountain of youth guy — killed Indians, invented Florida.) So I missed my deadline. I was so mortified — truly psychologically scarred — that I’ve had great difficulty missing a deadline ever since. There’s just something in my neurobiology that won’t allow it. Thus my motto became, “procrastinate later,” and thus I’m doing my taxes on February 28.

Although, let’s not fail to note that I’m not exactly doing my taxes right now. I’m writing this post. Which is a form of… yes… procrastination. Interesting: I am now procrastinating by talking about how I don’t procrastinate. The human mind is a complex machine.

A machine, it should be pointed out, that would rather not be involved with taxes, or flossing teeth, or eating oatmeal, or many of the other mundane tasks that occupy our days, weeks, months, years. We’d rather have lives that were all highlights — or maybe that’s just me. But if our lives were all highlights, how would we ever recognize them? To quote Bill Shakespeare, “If every day were holiday, to sport would be as tedious as work.” Well, I strive to make every day at least a little bit of a holiday, but today is Tax Day, JV style, so I’d better get cracking.

More (and more procrastination) later, -jv

The Albuquerque Turkey: Excerpt

The Albuquerque Turkey
by John Vorhaus

1      BOY

It all started with a dog, a biggish one loping down the sidewalk with that weird canter that some dogs have, the front legs syncopating and the rear legs slewing sidewise in tandem. He must’ve been running from something specific, because even while scampering forward he looked back, which resulted in him not seeing, and therefore barreling into, me. He hit me square in the knees and knocked me to the ground. This startled us equally, and for a second we both sat still, locked eye to eye down there at dog level.

I vibe dogs. I do. Or let’s say that I prize them: their unconditional love is a love you can trust. I’d rolled with one or two in my time, but the highly migratory life of a con artist didn’t really lend itself to long-term canine commitments, so I mostly just admired dogs from afar. Up close, this one was tough to admire, a mixed bag of black Lab and unknown provenance. One ear stood up like a German shepherd’s. The other… wasn’t there. Looking at the bitten-off stub, I couldn’t help wondering how a dog’s ear tastes to another dog. He bore other wounds as well, evidence of many fights – maybe not fair fights, for I thought I detected a human hand in some of his scars and mars. I saw it also in his eyes. He feared me. That made me sad. I reached out a hand to comfort him, and he flipped over in submission position, manifesting what every dog dreads and hopes when it submits: dread that it will be kicked; hope it’ll be scratched. I opted to scratch, and immediately made a (man’s best) friend.

“Get up, boy,” I said as I stood. “I’m not the boss of you.” The dog – in my mind I was already calling him Boy – obediently rose to his feet. I didn’t know if he was that well trained or just felt like following my lead. He wore no collar, only a weathered, knotted rope that trailed away to a frayed end. Something told me this was a dog in transition, and that whoever had been the boss of him was boss no more. Probably if I wanted to I could keep him, the thought of which tickled me. I pictured me presenting him to my girlfriend, Allie, who had lately shown such determination that we be normal. “Look what followed me home,” I’d tell her. “Can we keep it?” If that didn’t say normal, I don’t know what would.

First, though, there was the matter of making sure I was right. I mean, I couldn’t just kidnap him – dognap him – so I started back in the direction he’d come, determined to take a stab, at least, at finding his owner. The dog cowered, reluctant to follow. “It’s okay,” I said, “I got your back.” He still wouldn’t budge, so I knelt, rubbed his grizzled muzzle for a moment, then took the scraggly end of the rope and walked him down the street. I could tell he still wasn’t too keen on the idea, but now he was a dog on a leash, and they have no free will.

I had just turned the corner when I heard the first shouts.

I thought they came from the courtyard of some garden apartments just down the street, but with the way the sound bounced around off those Santa Fe adobe walls, I couldn’t be sure. There was a pickup truck parked in front of the courtyard, and its whole grungy aspect seemed linked to the courtyard noises. Bald tires, primer spots and dents, cracked windshield; a trailer trash ride, or I’m no judge of trucks. The tailgate was missing, and I could see in the cargo bed a litter of empty cans, both beer and oil, plus fast food wrappers and crumpled cigarette packs.

And, tethered to a tie-down, a severed rope, mate to the noose around Boy’s neck.

Boy recognized the truck. He whimpered fearfully as we approached, causing a picture to form in my mind: Enraged driver pulls up to the curb, anger burning so hot that he upsets his dog, who strains against his restraint – and snaps the tired line! Dog is off and running, but driver doesn’t care. All his anger’s focused on whoever’s in that courtyard.

More shouts now, and I could hear two voices, no, three: a man and a woman exchanging heated words, and a little girl playing hapless and ineffectual peacemaker. To me it added up to domestic dispute.

Boy wanted to leave and, boy, so did I. After all, there’s two kinds of problems in this world, right? My problem and not my problem. But there was a lot going on in my head. There was Allie’s need for the two of us to be citizens (and did not, in some sense, citizen equal Samaritan?) and also Boy, for if I left things like they were, he’d likely end up tied back up in that truck, the thought of which grieved me deeply. The kicker was the little girl’s voice. I could see the black hole of human trauma forming in the center of her universe. I knew that Allie came from such a troubled vortex, where mom and dad never got along and routinely inflicted horrible damage on anyone within range. I couldn’t go back in time and salve Allie’s pain. It was likewise probably too late to save the little girl from hers – these things start young – but maybe I could douse the present blaze.

And just perhaps talk my way into a dog.

I moved toward the courtyard. Boy resisted, but I patted his head in reassurance, trying to communicate that whatever I planned to sell, it wasn’t him out. I guess I got my point across, for he fell more comfortably in step beside me. I paused to gather myself before entering the courtyard. I didn’t know what, specifically, I was about to walk into, but it didn’t much matter. A top grifter gets good at improvising successfully across a wide variety of situations.

Even ones with guns.

I didn’t see the gun at first, just the man at the base of a short set of steps, looking dirty as his pickup truck in tired jeans and sneakers, a stained tank top, and a polyester cap with some kind of racing logo. The woman stood on the top step with the girl tucked in behind her. They wore matching mother/daughter flower print shifts. In other circumstances you’d say they looked cute. Now they just looked scared, but the mother was playing the defiance card hard – a card I could tell she didn’t really hold, but that’s what they call bluffing.

“Andy, now, clear out,” she said. “You know you’re not allowed here. The judge – ”

“Screw the judge,” said Andy. “I want Sophie. I want my little girl.”

“No, Andy. Not when you’ve been drinking and God knows what else.”

“Oh, and you’re such a saint?” Andy practically vibrated with rage.

“That’s not the point. I have custody.” The way she said custody damn near broke my heart. Like it had magic power, but I knew it would cast the opposite spell.

It did. It brought the gun up, a Browning MK II Hi Power. Some of them have hair triggers. Andy leveled it at – as I gathered from context – his ex-wife and child. “Sophie,” Andy told the girl, his voice gone cold, “go get in the truck. I swear if you don’t, I’ll shoot you both right now.”

The moment froze. I was afraid to speak. I didn’t want to spook Andy, not while he had the gun up. I guess Boy felt the same way. I could sense him repressing a growl. Then… the girl moved. She disengaged herself from her mother’s clutching hands and edged warily down the stairs. I knew what she was walking into, could foresee it in an instant. Let’s say she survived the next hour, day, week, month, year. Let’s say she made it all the way into womanhood. Where would that find her? Turning tricks at a truck stop? Up in some spike house with a needle in her arm? Living with a man who beat her just like daddy did? Talk about your human sacrifice. It may have been the bravest thing I’d ever seen in my life.

I couldn’t let it stand.

“Hey, mister,” I piped up, applying my most innocent bystander gloss, “do you know whose dog this is?” Three heads swiveled toward me. The gun swiveled, too, but I ignored it, for part of running a good con is shaping the reality around you. Or denying it, as the case may be. By disregarding the gun, I momentarily neutralized it, for what kind of fool doesn’t see the obvious? It’s destabilizing to people. They don’t know how to react, so mostly they just do nothing, which buys you some time to make your next move. At that point I don’t know if I felt supremely courageous or just dumb-ass dumb. Both, probably. But one thing you learn on the razzle is that once a con starts, the worst thing you can do is break it off. Then you’re just twisting in the wind. “Because, um, I found her down the street and she seems to be lost.”

“Ain’t a she,” said Andy.

“No? I didn’t look.” I bent down to check out Boy’s underside. “Hey, you’re right, it’s a boy. Anyway, used to be.” I smiled broadly and started walking Boy forward.

Andy aimed the gun. “Stop,” he said.

“Oh, look, I’m not trying to get in the middle of a thing here. I’m just trying to return this dog. Is he yours?”

“Just let him go.”

Well, I thought I knew what would happen if I did that. Boy would take off running, and probably none of us would ever see him again. I weighed my own selfishness – I wanted that dog – against his need and safety, and dropped the rope. Boy surprised me. He plopped down at my feet, content, apparently, to let me run the show to whatever outcome I could achieve. You gotta love that about dogs. When they trust you, they trust you all the way.

“Now clear out,” said Andy.

Here’s where my play got dicey. Make or break time. “Hang on,” I said, bleeding avid enthusiasm into my voice. “What kind of gun is that?”

“What?”

“Because it looks like a 1980s Hi Power. Is it?”

“The hell should I know?”

I squinted at the gun, straining to see detail, which I didn’t really need to do, since one of the many things you learn about in my line of work is guns, in detail. “Ambidextrous thumb safeties, nylon grip, three-dot sights. Yep, that’s a Mark II. Bet it’s got the throated barrel and everything.”

“Get the fuck out of here.”

“The thing is,” I said, “I’m kind of a collector. Any chance I could buy it off you?” This was the heart of my play, based explicitly on what the mother had said about drinking and God knows what else. I knew what else. Crank. Crystal meth. I could see it in Andy’s dilated pupils, his scrunge-brown teeth, and his generally tweaky demeanor. A guy like that’s not likely to be long on cash, and addiction is a voice that never shuts up. He might could want to quell it for a while. Very slowly, again not to spook him, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my bankroll.

Funny. For someone complicit with Allie in getting off the razzle, I still kept my cash in a grifter’s roll, big bills out the outside, small bills within. I held the roll lengthwise, between my thumb and first finger, so that Andy could see its Ben Franklin veneer. “I think I have a grand here,” I lied easily. “If that’s not enough, we could hit my ATM.”

Andy licked his lips, imperfectly processing my offer. “Maybe I’ll just take it,” he said.

Oops. I hadn’t considered that. “Sure, yeah, whatever,” I vamped. “You could do that. But what kind of example does that set for your little girl?” This was pure bafflegab – nonsense – and I knew it, but that didn’t halt my improv. “Look,” I continued, “like I said, I’m not trying to get in the middle of a thing, but it looks like you guys have a problem. If you take my money by force, the problem gets worse. If you start shooting, it gets way worse, right?” I looked at the mother for confirmation, silently encouraging her to nod, which she did. “On the other hand, you sell me your gun, you’ve got a little scratch, you can take your girl out for ice cream, come back later, everybody’s calm, you can all work out your business.” I knew he’d take take your girl out for ice cream to mean go score, and hoped his need was such that he’d opt for the line of least resistance.

He seemed to be leaning that way. I could see him mentally converting a thousand dollars into chunks of scud. “What’s in it for you?” he asked.

“I told you, I’m a collector. I’ve got the Mark I and the Mark III, but the Mark II, boy, those are rare.” (Well, measured in millions.) I dared a step forward, arm outstretched, dangling my bankroll like bait. “What do you say? Deal?”

The ladies and I held our breath. Maybe Boy did, too.

“I’m keeping the bullets,” said Andy at last.

“That’s fine,” I said. “Who collects bullets?”

Then, so slowly it made my teeth ache, Andy lowered the gun, pressed the slide release, and dropped the magazine into his hand. Still manifesting my goofy enthusiasm, I strode over and made the exchange, then stepped back quickly before he could change his mind. “Oh, man,” I said, “wait’ll the guys in the gun club see this.”

The next sound you hear will be Andy saying, “What the fuck?” when he finds out what a grifter’s roll is.

“What the fuck?” said Andy. He threw down the roll and took a menacing step toward me.

“Funny thing, though,” I said, raising the gun, “didn’t you chamber a round?” Andy stopped. I let my voice go hard. “Go on, get out of here.” He turned back to grab Sophie, but, “Oh, no,” I said. “No.” Then he looked at his dog. “Not him, either,” I said. “Get.”

Andy got.

Was there a round in the chamber? Did it matter? You can bluff with the best hand, too.

The truck rumbled off. I’d memorized the license plate, and would soon be dropping a dime, for there’s no way that guy wasn’t holding. Meantime, I encouraged Sophie and her mother to clear out to a shelter somewhere, which they thought was a pretty damn good idea. We agreed that Boy would stay with me.

So happy ending, right? Sure, except for one thing. Completely unbeknownst to us, someone in one of the adjacent apartments had cell-phone videoed the whole thing through a window. It was on YouTube by dusk.

It didn’t really matter that thousands of people saw Radar Hoverlander in action.

But it sure as hell mattered that one person did.

pay too much for signed copies here


The Magic Land of Alakazam

I was six years old, maybe five, when I went to my first live TV taping, a local TV show called The Magic Land of Alakazam. There were hundreds and hundreds of screaming, unruly kids, and I was in the back row, far off to the side, when they asked for volunteers to join the magician on camera. I stood on my chair and waved my hand like a madman. And I got picked. No one in my family was surprised — nor surprised at my attempts to subvert the magician’s tricks. plus ça change, my friends, plus ça change…

An Odd Conflation

Monday, February 1st, 2010

So I was trying to find out how old core ice is in Antarctica (because I’m thinking about distilling vodka from that source) when I came across this found object in Google:

Antarctic ice is growing, not melting away | News.com.au

Ice expanding in much of Antarctica Eastern coast getting colder Western section … I had sex with my friend’s 16-year-old daughter. What should I do? …

I suppose they’re just two random pulls from the same news source (news.com.au, where you can also follow the latest controversy of letting children lick nine-volt batteries) but it left me grimly amused. The good news is, there’s no global warming. The bad news…

More later, -jv

Word for the Day

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Panicdote

images

An unsubstantiated story that makes you freak out. Can you think of examples of panicdotes? I’m starting a collection.

True Fact/Bar Fact, Multiple Choice Edition

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Which of these is not another name for kiwifruit?

A) Yang Tao

B) Chinese Gooseberry

C) Melonette

D) Fruit Potato

kiwi

Email for answer jvx at vorza.com.

It’s That Cold

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

But it’s not that cold. Okay, it is that cold. Like, it hasn’t been above single digit temperatures all week (and that’s in Fahrenheit — it’s even colder in centigrade). But yesterday when I was out walking in the Big Popsicle that is Moscow, I realized, hey, I’m not even miserable. Yes, it’s cold and yes, I’m cold, but I’m not suffering… I’m just cold. And as I looked around at passers-by, I realized that many of them weren’t wearing hats or gloves. Many carried on cell phone conversations, with bare hands and heads, just as if it were any other — okay, every other — day on the streets of Moscow. They weren’t miserable, either. They were just cold.

This is a huge revelation for me. I thought I HATED the cold. I recall living in Boston and hating winter so much that the cold actually made me angry. That’s one of the reasons I moved to Los Angeles — to put the misery behind me. Well, now I’m in the middle of Moscow’s coldest winter in years (global warming? hah!) and it’s really not that hard to take. I can walk in the cold. I can BE cold. And I’m not unhappy.

Or maybe I’m just numb.

Frankly, it’s too cold to tell.

Also — knock on wood — I seem to be avoiding the treacherous slip-and-falls that have plagued me in the past. The sidewalks are ridiculously slick, but I’ve developed a system for not falling down. I just follow these simple steps.

1. EYES DOWN. Keep intensely focused on each step. This keeps ice patches from taking you by surprise.

2. HANDS OUT. Sure your fingers get cold, but your hands won’t do you any good in your pockets when you’re falling down.

3. LOW CENTER OF GRAVITY. Stay loose and stay low to keep balanced.

4. WATCH FOR DOWNSPOUTS. Where water flows down off rooftops it settles into deadly patches of black ice. Keep your eye on the downspouts and know that the ice is lurking.

Okay, what’s that thing pride goeth before? That’s right… a fall. So I’ll be specially careful going home tonight.

Stay warm, campers; it’s not even February yet.

More later, -jv

True Fact/Bar Fact, the Vowel Edition

Friday, January 8th, 2010

We all know that two English words — facetiously and abstemiously — feature all the vowels in alphabetical order. Well — true fact or bar fact? — there are NO English words that feature all the vowels in reverse alphabetical order. Check back Monday for my considered opinion.

And by the way, if you haven’t checked out my groovy promo video for The California Roll on my website, now is probably the perfect time to do so. True fact! Just click the pic.

THE CALIFORNIA ROLL cover draft small

More later, -jv (John Vorhaus, which I only mention for the search engines).

A Fortitious Happenstance

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

So it’s Sunday, my designated writing day, and I’m banging away on my next novel (The Albuquerque Turkey, due out in 2011, so it damn well better be finished by then!) I’m arguing with myself over whether fortitious is a word. I know fortuitous is, but I’m thinking that fortitious might be my own English-to-English false cognate. So I go to the internet to glean the opinion of consensus reality. Wikipedia thinks I mean fictitious. Webster just laughs. But Google returns some 1,860 hits for  fortitious. That’s not much by internet standards (fortuitous returns 1.6 million hits) but still it’s not nothing.

I’m curious to know how others treat the word, so I click about for a moment or two, and thus find my way to “Donna Zagotta’s Art Blog” (DonnaZagotta.com/blog). The use of fortitious wasn’t even hers; it appeared in the text of a reader’s comment, in response to Donna’s post about being a member of an art show jury. And now here comes the fortitious happenstance, for Donna lists the (admittedly subjective) criteria by which she judges art. Here’s what she looks for:

– Work that is personal, unique, creative, and imaginative.

– Work that contains a personal visual language.

– Work that is well put together and creatively designed.

– Work that is fully resolved and contains a complete statement.

– Work that communicates something meaningful, whether a subject is present or not.

– Work that contains beauty. Not beauty for pretty’s sake, but the kind of beauty that results when the artist is authentically engaged with process, design, subject, and meaning.

– Most of all, I look for work that contains the artist’s passion.

And I realize — fortitious happenstance — that I look for essentially the same thing in a writer’s work. People often ask me how I know if a writer “has it.” I always said that I don’t know, I just know. But thanks to Donna Zagotta, I now have (and you now have) an objective set of criteria for subjective aesthetic judgment. And that’s certainly not nothing, and surely worth the ten minutes’ detour from my work.

So thanks for that, Donna; I’ll be pitching your standards as early as tomorrow morning here in Moscow, because the writers I work with are ever in need of clear, concise guidelines, and these are among the best I’ve seen. Don’t worry; I’ll give credit where it’s due, and you may end up getting more hits at your blog. More even, maybe, than fortitious.

And the last word on fortitious, campers? Of course it’s a word. I declare it a word. Which you knew from the start that I’d do, didn’t you?

More later, -jv

The Week Got Away

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

So I went out last Sunday to a gallery show, and took some pictures of some pictures I wanted to share with you. Now, all of a sudden, it’s Saturday. Where did the week go? Well, where they’ve all gone: into a haze of long days peppered with documents to review, notes to give, meetings to attend, and then more documents to review for the next day’s merry-go-round — leavened, thank God, with the occasional expats’ poker game. I’m not complaining — still not complaining! — every day is a workaholic’s holiday in Moscow. But I did mean to post these pictures before now. Anyway, now it’s now, and here they are, some examples of contemporary Russian and European art, currently on sale near the Kremlin at prices that beggar imagination.

Moscow 12-09 022

Moscow 12-09 028

Moscow 12-09 031

Moscow 12-09 032

Moscow 12-09 036

And then this is me, stopping at a shopping center on the way home to try on the latest in Russian adventure-wear.

Moscow 12-09 039

And finally some buskers, following the internationally honored tradition of singing to people who just don’t care.

Moscow 12-09 043

It’s getting cold down there in those underpasses now. After last week’s record high temperatures, the mercury has plummeted through cold and too cold, all the way down to stupid cold. I don’t mind. I’m heading home to California in ten days, where “cold” means maybe I won’t wear shorts today. And yes, I’ve re-upped — I’ll take another shift at the mine from late January until March first. But, again, I don’t mind. After all, I work indoors, don’t have to walk anywhere I don’t choose to, and since I have a driver, I never have to get into a cold car. That’s huge if you hate winter. The weird thing is, I’m not even hating it. Could it be that I’ve thickened my California blood with Moscow borscht? No, not possible. I don’t eat borscht.

Okay, well, time to dive back into my week. Workaholic’s holiday, la la la.

More later, -jv