Keep Moving

One more flash fiction and then I’ll be back to my normal musings. I might have other flash fictions, but they’re mostly crap. I know it might be surprising that I have quality control and that these are actually the good mediocre ones, but it’s true.

I think the prompt for this one was a picture of mountainous terrain. It was only a practice rounds, so let’s just assume this would have won and was the best work of fiction that any of the judges had ever seen. Yeah, let’s just assume that.

 

Keep Moving

Breathe in. Breathe out. Move on.

That sounds like a song lyric. Maybe Jimmy Buffett or one of those other wash-ups who middle-aged dudes listen to when they’re going through a mid-life crisis. Regardless, it’s some good advice right now. Focus on what’s in front of you. One step in front of the other. Deep breath. Always forward, never looking back.

Don’t look back.

The top of the mountain is within sight. I mean, not directly in sight. That’s the thing about mountains. There’s always another peak beyond the next one. Your perspective changes. And then, when you finally make it to the top, it’s a kind of plateau. You wouldn’t even know you’re at the tip-top without some sort of sign. The next step is lower than the last one? Okay, if you say so, GPS.

Not that I’ve made it to the top of the mountain yet. But I think that’s what’s there.

So why do you climb a mountain, anyway? Because it’s there? No. Fuck that. That’s somebody else’s answer. My answer’s got to be better. Shit, a river is there. A hole in the ground is there. Why would I want to do something just because it’s there? The losers back on flat land come up with asinine reasons like it’s there. 

Kaitlyn’s back on flat land.

I’m not climbing this mountain because it’s here. I’m climbing it because I’m accomplishing something. I’m not sitting in front of a television on a Sunday afternoon, checking my fantasy football team and thinking I’m king shit because some random football player that I’ve never met is footballing harder than some other random football player that my co-worker’s never met and, whoa-hoa-hoa, how great is that going when we spend the first two hours of work tomorrow rehashing these exploits around the office coffee urn? Fucking losers.

But they’re in the past. Kaitlyn’s in the past. No looking back. Always look forward. Breathe in, breathe out.

It really is a beautiful vista. Little sage brushes dot the landscape. I’m well beyond the tree line. I left that thousands of feet below. It looks like I’m almost past the sagebrush line. Is that a thing? Is there a point where even the smallest plants cease to survive? When the air gets too thin? I mean, there’s a point where humans can’t exist, right? That’s why there’s all those frozen corp-sicles up on Mount Everest. If humans can’t exist without breathing masks, can plants survive? And if there aren’t any plants, what’s up there? Nothing but rocks and snow, I assume.

Only one way to find out. Get past these little bushes and see if there’s another copse ahead. See if there are more plants in another half-mile. Always onward. Always upward. Never look back.

At least those dead bodies up on Everest were accomplishing something. Not like those numbnuts who get stuck on Mount Rainier every April, because twenty feet of snow sounds like an excellent setting for a whimsical day hike. There’s ambition and then there’s impulsive stupidity. There’s trained hikers being led by sherpas and there’s bored twenty-somethings tempting fate after one too many hits on the bong. They aren’t moving forward. They’re just taking a very fucking stupid detour in life.

Maybe I should try Everest someday. Not there yet. This little sojourn will start my training.

Still, those Everest hikers made a vital mistake, too. They didn’t keep moving. They slowed down. They stopped. Life ends when you stop moving. Sometimes it’s not as literal as it is up on Everest, but it’s still true in Seattle or Singapore or Spain. Pretty much anywhere on Earth. I won’t make that mistake when I do Everest. I won’t slow down.

Kaitlyn slowed down. Kaitlyn stopped. She doesn’t think of it that way, but she’s wrong. She’s not on this mountain with me, and there’s your proof. The plan was to pick a new feat to conquer each year. What new feat is she accomplishing right now? Head buried in case files, preparing her seventeenth slam-dunk DUI case in a row, the bane of every first year prosecutor. Can you walk us through hat we see in this field sobriety test? What does that level of pupil dilation indicate? And when was the last time the breathalyzer was calibrated? Thank you. No further questions, your Honor.

That’s not an adventure. That’s not moving on or up. That’s just a quiet resignation to a long, slow fade into obscurity. Have fun listening to Jimmy Buffett in ten years, Kaitlyn. Don’t come bitching to me when you wonder where your mountain went.

Keep moving. Onward and upward. No detours. No complacency. Always forward. No looking back. Breathe out. Breathe in.

The air is definitely thinner up here. A full breath puts stars in your eyes. I wonder if this is part of the rush all those Adderall fiends at law school felt. Probably not. This is a natural high, brought on by my own effort and execution. Those losers wouldn’t know effort or execution if it came up out of their textbook and bit them on their ass-chin.

I could’ve taken the Bar a second time. That’s what Kaitlyn wanted me to do. Only a third of the people who take it pass it their first time. The pass rate goes up to fifty percent for second-timers. But what would that prove? Six more months of standing in place. Marking time, just to prove that I’m, maybe, in the top half. Watching my girlfriend head off to her fancy job each day, dreaming of distant mountains to climb.

And if you’re standing still, you’re actually moving backward. Because the rest of the world isn’t going to wait for you to catch up. How would that look if I was trying stupid DUI cases a year later, while Kaitlyn’s sitting second chair on murder ones? To say nothing of Rebecca in her high-tower law firm and Jimmy’s contract service.

It was time to move on. Life sent me a message, and thank God it did. If I had passed the Bar, would I be up here right now? Getting light-headed with thoughts of Everest? Nah, man. This. THIS. Is the life for me.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Keep moving. Never forward. Always look back.

No, wait a second. Keep looking forward, not backward. This thin air must be getting to me. There’s nothing worth looking at behind me.

Life’s a journey, not a destination.

I know that one’s a lyric. Amazing. Aerosmith. Steven Tyler. Now there’s a guy who doesn’t slow down. What is he, seventy? And he still runs around on stage and screams at the top of his lungs. That’s what I want to be. No, that’s what I’m going to be. Not a rock star, but still doing my thing. Still moving on. Journeying, not destinationing. Not sitting down at a desk reading case briefs. Not sitting down.

Sitting down sounds nice. Not forever, of course. Just to rest. My lungs are killing me. And my legs are… well, to be honest, I can’t really feel my legs. I wonder how high I am? The mountain just keeps on going and going. Life just keeps on going and going. Just a little rest here and then I’ll get up and finish.

What would be the use in taking the Bar a second time, anyway? As far as I could tell, only the girls passed. Except for Jimmy, but he has bubbly writing, so the graders probably thought he was a woman. What am I supposed to do, change how I write? Sure, I could study more this time. I could have studied more the first time. But studying seems so… so…

It’s so hard to catch my breath. Even when I’m sitting here in the cold. When did it get so cold? Probably when I stopped moving. But sitting feels nice. I can see all the way down the mountain from here. Such a long way I’ve come. The past looks so pretty from this vantage point.

I wonder what Kaitlyn’s doing right now. Probably kicking ass and taking names. I wonder if she’s moved on from me yet. She was always good at moving on. And moving up? She… She…

I should probably get up soon. But this is too comfortable. Once I catch my breath, I’ll get up. And then I’ll conquer my next big feat. Then I’ll be able to move on. Find a new mountain peak. There’s always another one just beyond the current one. Find a new girlfriend. Find a new career. Find a new life. Just right after I lie down for a bit.

I don’t think I’ve ever… listened to a.. Jimmy Buffett song. I wonder… wonder  if he’s any… any…

 

 

Ear in the Sky

Time to post another one of my near-miss flash fiction competition entries. The prompt on this one was to have the narrator be an inanimate object. I went through multiple iterations in a short span. I started out writing from the perspective of a rear-view window, and he was going to be in a mafioso’s car and would occasionally see the crimes and fights and whatnot happening behind the car, but he would never see what was in front. Oh, and everything was going to be reversed. Probably woulda been a cool story, but about two hundred words in, I realized there was no effing way I could crank that out over one weekend.

Then I decided to go with a bottle of wine on a restaurant table, because I was listening to a lot of Billy Joel Radio. Then I was about halfway through the story when I decided I actually wanted it to be from the music speaker’s POV. Because I was listening to a lot of Billy Joel Radio…

Don’t forget you can check out the two times my stories actually won here and here.

This one didn’t win. I present you:

The Ear in the Sky

Unmistakable chord. Yeah, I know this song. This is my jam, man.

A bottle of white. A bottle of red.

Billy Joel. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

Fitting. This may not be an Italian restaurant, per se. But we’ve got plenty of pasta on the menu. Pasta goes great with wine. Forget the white. A complex red to go with a meaty pasta sauce, like a Bolognese.

We’ll get a table near the street. In our old familiar place. You and I, face to face.

Jeff and Karla have been here a number of times before. They’ve probably heard this song plenty of times before. The playlist here isn’t too long, standard repertoire of seventies and eighties easy-listening. This song is actually a little upbeat compared to the normal fare. Not this part of the song. This part, the part about the wine and the restaurant, is pretty standard, but it picks up. Turns into a song about a couple getting a divorce. Maybe not the lyrics you want playing in the background at a nice restaurant. More fitting for one of those red-and-white checkered, calamari-appetizer kind of a restaurant. Probably why we do an abbreviated version of the song here. Straight from the beginning to the end. Fits the ambiance better. Fits what people like Jeff and Karla come here for.

Let the bottle breathe a little bit. No need to speed through the wine. It’ll be here all night, sitting in the middle of lucky table seven. The table in the corner with the view of the river. The wine bottle can look out over the entirety of the place. Take the whole scene in. Frankie, the fancy waiter in his white shirt and long blue tie, both tucked into the black apron tied around his waist. He has a white cloth napkin tucked into the back of the tie rope, ostensibly to wipe his hands, keep them clean, but most of the time he just tucks his hands there, behind his back, out of habit. He pulls on the two sides of that napkin, checking to make sure they’re even with each other, more often than he actually cleans his hands. It’s a nervous disposition to stop him from hovering over his tables, of hanging his hands limply in front of his customers. If he doesn’t have pen and pad in his hands, they’re tucked behind him. The bottle of wine knows that about Frankie. I know that about Frankie. We all do.

If you’re going to be a vital piece of an operation like this, like I am, you need to know the idiosyncrasies. Frankie and his hands. Jenny’s worse with her hands. They shake. Whoa to the full bottle of red that she has to pour for a tasting. Many a nice cotton tablecloths have resembled a red-and-white checkered, calamari-appetizer style tablecloths after Jenny’s done a tasting.

You’ve got to know the back of the house, too. Luis, the sous chef, hates doing desserts, so when Luis is on the line, expect the desserts to come out slow. Joshua, the line cook, is dating Katie, the expediter. Well, I suppose you can call it “dating.” Let’s just say that the peppercorn steak might not be the only thing coming out spicy when the two of them are working together. But watch out if there aren’t any tickets up at this particular moment, those two might disappear into the walk-in refrigerator and whoa to the next tickets coming up. Better hope a nice long song comes on to bridge that particular gap in the service. Better hope the wine is pouring well, and not by Jenny.

You’ve got to know the customers, too. You’ve got to be able to read the room. Predict what each table, what each set of individuals with their individual goals and desire for the evening, want. Table three has tickets to the show tonight. They want to go fast. Table twenty-two isn’t quite a bachelorette party, but it might as well be. Raspberry mojitos, all around.

Jeff and Karla are taking their time tonight. They haven’t even sipped from the bottle of wine yet. The bottle senses that. I sense that. Frankie senses that. Jeff and Karla want some time to reminisce. Or at least one of them does.

“We’ve been coming here a long time, huh?” Jeff says.

“We have,” Karla answers. “A long time. Since the beginning, really.”

“What was it, our second date here?”

“Was it? I know it was early.”

Karla looks off into the air. Perhaps in thought. Perhaps absorbing the Billy Joel.

“I guess you’re right. It’s hard to keep track of stuff that long ago.”

Something seems a little off between Jeff and Karla. It’s hard to put a finger on it. Not that I have a finger. But it seems like Karla would usually be the historian in a conversation like this. Maybe they’ve just been traveling a lot. They haven’t been at table seven for quite some time.

Is it too early for a little Barry Manilow? Trick question, of course. It’s ALWAYS time for some Barry Manilow.

Karla’s ear ticks her eyes back toward the table when the piano melody starts. “Speaking of our early dates.”

Jeff looks confused. His brows meet in the middle, then his eyesight follows the direction of Karla’s ear, so that he’s looking up into the ether. Looking right at me.

“Who is this? Barely Man-enough? How would he remind you of our early days? Jason Mraz, maybe. Not Barry Manilow.”

“Not the singer. The song. “Weekend in New England.” About a couple that’s always apart from each other. Always traveling. Missing each other.”

Jeff doesn’t look all that interested in listening to the lyrics, but Karla’s now looking up at me. The conversation is over until the lyrics get to the part she wants to hear.

And tell me, when will our eyes meet? When can I touch you?

Jeff grabs for the bottle of wine. Pours a little bit in Karla’s wine. Turns it back to his. If the conversation isn’t going to highlight the evening, maybe the wine will.

And when will I hold you again?

“I guess I traveled a lot,” Jeff finally opines when the crooner moves into his signature key change. Man, nobody can signal an upcoming quarter-octave change better than the Manilow.

“We spent a lot of nights on the telephone. Me whispering sweet nothings from my heart, you dictating a porn diary of what you’d do to me when you got home.”

Jeff smiles. “Those were from the heart.”

Karla should smile at that. Her last comment should have been said with mirth. But there was a bit of pain in it. Her lips didn’t twitch upward at Jeff’s response. Instead, the muscles in front of her lower incisors contract. Not quite a frown, but a set.

I notice it. The bottle of wine notices it. Frankie notices it. He starts to swoop in, one step forward, hands untucking from his back-napkin.

“A little farther south than the heart,” Karla says.

A retreat. A joke that is not quite a joke, but carries the illusion of civility. I can relax. The bottle of wine can relax. Frankie can relax, which is good because there wasn’t much he could have done. Jeff had just filled their glasses and neither of them have touched the menus. Sure, he could offer up an apeasatory appetizer, list off some specials that neither of the regulars would be interested in. Thank you, Karla, for keeping things civil.

No thanks to you, Mr. Manilow. Maybe it’s time for a change.

“Deperado?” Really? The Eagles? The playlist has a mind of its own tonight. Not sure if it’s the best segue from the travelin’ man in the last song. What’s next, some U2 song about wild horses?

If I had my choice, I’d but out a little Yacht Rock here. Some Air Supply. “Every Woman in the World” or “Two Less Lonely People in the World.” Oh, how about Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song?” Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you, honey.

Not that I have any say over the playlist. I can’t pick the tunes, but I can make you hear them. Probably a metaphor in there.

All I can do is let the sounds be heard. The ear in the sky. Probably closer to mouth in the sky, but I like Ear in the Sky. Closer to a song. “Eye in the Sky.” Alan Parsons Project. And I don’t need to see anymore to know that I can read your mind.

I don’t think Alan Parsons Project’s ever made it onto this playlist. Not sure why. It would totally fit the mood. Maybe not the lyrics, but the tune. Instead, I do my workman’s best to the likes of…

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? You been out ridin’ fences for too long, now.

Still, Karla tamed the Desperado. Pick up that thread if you know what’s good for you, Jeff.

Instead, he sips a little bit of his wine. Not good, buddy. Not good.

Karla follows suit.

Don’t you draw the Queen of Diamonds, boy, she’ll beat you if she’s able. You know the Queen of Hearts-

“Hey, remember the lyrics that the pastor said at our wedding?”

There you go, Jeff.

But Karla is the confused one now. Jeff didn’t get the Barry Manilow connection, and now she’s at a loss. The only difference is she remembers. She makes the connection. She just doesn’t really get it.

“Kenny Rogers?”

Kenny Rogers?

“Yeah.”

Wrong Kenny, Jeff.

“‘The Gambler?'”

Really, Jeff? I don’t know what’s worse. That you used “The Gambler” in your wedding vows or the fact that you think it’s appropriate here.

“Yeah. Every gambler knows,” Jeff is singing nowhere near what The Roaster can do. It would be painful in its own right, but it’s even worse against the Don Henley I’m spouting. Or is this a Glen Frey song? “That the secret to survivin’ is knowing what to throw away, and knowing what to keep.”

Okay, I’ll give it to you, Jeff. Or maybe to your pastor. It’s got a little bit of flair. But you know the gambler, like, dies in that verse, right?

“I suppose he’s right,” Karla says in response.

Oh, damn! Red Alert. Red Alert. Frankie, what are you doing just sitting there with your hands behind your back. Get in there and do something. There’s dead silence down there. All they can do is listen to the Glen Frey. Or maybe Don Henley.

It’s hard to tell the nighttime from the day. You’re losing all your highs and lows. Ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away?

Where’s the Air Supply? I need some Air Supply, stat!

“I was never really sure you wanted to be tamed,” Karla keeps going. “You were always the gambler, the traveler.”

“Until I met you.”

And now Frankie moves in. A verse too late, but Jeff seemed to recover. Sure, Frankie, refill their glasses. Talk about the specials. Ask if they want any appetizers. No? Okay, grab them some bread and butter. Great. At least it’s long enough to get this godforsaken Eagles song off of the Ear in the Sky.

Jimmy Buffett. “Coast of Carolina.”

Kind of a crapshoot here. Buffet wrote it as a sequel to “Come Monday,” yet another song about long-distance love. Man, I never really realized how many of those songs there were. But still, if the couple survived “Come Monday,” this sequel song has to be happy, right? Give these two something to focus on.

I live this dream and still it seems I’ve got you on my mind. From the bottom of my heart, off the coast of Carolina. After one or two false starts, I believe we’ve found our stride.

“What are we even doing here?” Karla asks.

And here it goes. I wish I had a record to scratch the needle across. No Frankie to jump in this time. The wine bottle can’t just tip itself over. And anyway, it’s halfway done its job. That’s a dangerous place, being halfway into a bottle of wine. Just far enough down to yank on the thread, but not far enough down to lose the thread.

“What do you mean? You love this place.”

Jeff just looks dumbfounded. He wasn’t connecting the dots up until now. I guess none of us were. Not the bottle of wine. Certainly not Frankie, who should be swooping in. Save a marriage to save a tip. But instead he’s in the back somewhere, putting little pats of butter in a tiny blue plastic ramekin. He’s probably hitting on Katie, the expediter, totally oblivious to the fact that he’s got no shot because she’s already been into the walk-in freezer with Joshua tonight.

So instead Jeff is here to fend for himself in this world that nobody was prepared for. While Jimmy Buffett does no help in the background.

These days I get up about the time I used to go to bed. Living large was once the deal, now I watch the stars instead.

No fault to Jimmy, really. These words could go either way. If Karla was in the mood to reminisce, if Karla was being her usual self, she’d eat these lyrics up. She’s usually focused on the fact that she’d tamed the wild horse, instead of how much work it was to get him to this point. Most people hear the Beatles sing “When I’m Sixty-Four” and think it’s a wonderful, forever-and-forever tale. But right now, Karla would just say, “Really, Jeff? You want me to wait until I’m sixty-fucking-four before you’re going to be a part of this fucking thing?”

And that’s the problem, really. Their roles are reversed. Jeff is usually the aloof one. He loves her, sure. That much is obvious, and always has been. He always came back. To Karla. To this restaurant. And he was always happy. But he isn’t always emotive. He isn’t always the one who can hear a lyric in a song and use it as a springboard to explain how he’s found his soulmate, his anchor, the one that puts his whole life in order. Bryan Adams. “(Everything I Do), I Do It For You.”

Unless the lyric is from “The Gambler,” evidently.

And so now that Jeff’s in this position, he doesn’t know how to respond. He can’t take the initiative. He’s figured out a way to be Newton’s equal-and-opposite reaction, but Karla needs to be the action. Karla’s not being the action. Karla appears to be done being the action.

 

All he can do is open and close his mouth. Knowing something needs to be said, but not knowing what it is. Open. A sound escapes. A “whuh” sound. Closed. Open. A “Kuh” sound. Closed.

The song changes. Oh no, playlist. Not this. Anything but Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand.

You don’t bring me flowers. You don’t sing me love songs.

FML.

“I love you, Karla. I don’t know what else to say.”

Jeff is trying, I’ll give him that. I think he might’ve even noticed the song choice. Desperation. Hail Mary here. And honesty is a great policy. Especially if you’ve got no other viable policies.

“No, you know what, Jeff? I don’t know that-,”

“Did you guys want to hear about our specials tonight?”

Oh, Frankie. I applaud the effort, but you’re a day late and a dollar short. Actually, with this going on at one of your prime tables, you’re going to be much more than a dollar short.

“Sorry, Frankie,” Karla says, sticking her hand out at a forty-five degree angle. The universal sign for not-being-rude-but-stop. “Can you just give us a minute?”

Frankie backs away, his hands fumbling through the metaphorical tail no stuck in his legs. He’s going to try to be sneaky, slink off to the back to tell Katie and Joshua and Luis and all the others to take a wider berth around table seven. Oh, and to keep an eye on table seven.

“Like I was saying, Jeff.” It used to be so natural (used to be) to talk about forever.“I don’t think you know how to love. I think you only know how to pursue your own interests.” But used-to-be’s don’t count anymore, they just lay on the floor till we sweep them away.“And, yeah, I know that I have, invariably, been part of your own self interests. But the only reason we’ve stayed together this long is because I was always something you could come back to.”

“Dammit, Karla, that’s not true.” Baby, I remember all the things you taught me. “You weren’t just what I was coming back to.” I learned how to laugh and I learned how to cry. “You were the whole reason I was going in the first place.”

Oh, Jeff. I know what you mean. You mean that she helps you experience the world. That she’s what grounds you. That you’ve learned how to love and you’ve learned how to cry. The lyrics were right above you. You only had to grasp them. But instead you said… Are you aware of what you said?

The wine bottle can’t help anymore. Even if Jeff or Frankie had the wherewithal for a pregnant pause while pouring, it wouldn’t do any good. The bottle’s empty. That’s the thing about wine bottles. Everyone considers them quintessential to a dining experience. The first thing you order. But wine bottles usually don’t last the night. Four glasses per bottle. With two people dining, that’s only a couple glasses each. The wine isn’t there when the dessert rolls around. Or when the opposite of a dessert happens.

You know who’s still here? Who’s always here? I am. The Ear in the Sky. And I know what you’re thinking.

I just wish I could do something about it.

So you’d think I could learn how to tell you good-bye.

“Check!”

Karla attempts to flag down Frankie.

“It’s fine,” Jeff says. “I’ve got it.”

The only response he can give. Pay the tab. Slightly misogynistic, but well meaning. Kind of like Jeff. And, to be honest, half the gentlemen that reserve table seven. If they can’t come up with the nice words or the sweet sentiments, they can at least bust out the wallet for the nice view.

But whatever Jeff was hoping for, Karla’s taking him at his word. She stands up to leave.

“I’ll send the paperwork over tomorrow.”

And just like that, one of table seven’s most distinguished couples is done. Jeff is left footing the bill, both literally and figuratively. Frankie’s swooping in to drop off the literal.

Oh, hey, I hear a distinctive Australian duo coming up. Probably a song too late for you, Jeff. Not that I think it would’ve worked, either way for you tonight. But it’s the thought that…

I’m lying alone with my head on the phone, thinking of you till it hurts.

Ouch, playlist. Of all their songs, I feel especially bad for playing this one right now. Sorry about that, Jeff. I’m a speaker. I can only play the music, not pick the songs or when to play them.

Air Supply. “All Out of Love.”

Got Yer Published Work Right Here!

Hey!

So, I know some of you have enjoyed some of my “loser” flash fiction entries. And more of them are coming in the next week or two. But did you know that I don’t always lose? For copyright reasons, I couldn’t post the winners because they were going to be published along with the other winners.

Well, now you can check them out. And if you’ve liked some of my non-winners, you owe it to yourself to see the good ones, don’t ya think?

Although, let me say up front that I don’t get any royalties from these sales. The money all goes to the company that put on the contests so that they can hire interns to be totally wrong about all of my other entries (but totally right twice, just like the blind squirrel on the VCR clock). The main thing I get from being published in these anthologies is that I can now expose myself in public without… hold on, I’m starting to think that’s not what they meant by “exposure.” Hmm. Good thing it’s too cold for me to test my theory this time of year.

The first story, which appears in “72 Hour of Insanity, Vol. IV” is called “Those who Rule the Stars and the Universe,” and it’s the first one with that title. They gave us the title and we had to run with it. It’s a historical fiction. There were a few other options to choose from, such as a sci-fi story called “The Cartographer” and one that I really, really wanted to write, which was a romance called “Beating the Boardroom.” Hoo boy, mine woulda been sticky. But instead, I decided to go with the Trial of Galileo, as the question at its heart was, quite literally, about who rules the stars and the universe. Oh, and there are some distinct nods to “Assassin’s Creed.” See if you can find them.

In the second round of contests, I again placed one story, although this one was only a third place finish. I don’t care. I’ll take it. The story in “72 Hours of Insanity, Vol. 5” (yes, they went from Roman numerals to Arabic – something about Amazon publishing being less user-friendly than CreateSpace was) is titles “Over the Top.” It’s another work of historical fiction. Hey, I’m seeing a trend. We were given five options. My first inclination was the Gunpowder Plot, but then I focused in on the Spanish Flu. This was a major epidemic that started at the tail end of World War I. It ended up wiping out more people than the War did, at least in the United States. So I went with that motif, a soldier who escaped the trenches but couldn’t escape the Flu.

So out of ten events, I won one and came in third place once. They gave out five places for each event, so let’s see, two times out of fifty places. I’m four percent of a writer, now! Although I technically couldn’t place more than once per event, so two out of ten? Twenty percent? But then something, something, third place out of the number of entries, and carry the four, and…

You know what? I think I’ll stick to historical fiction.

Thanks for all of your support, peeps.

2018 Concerts, Part 2

Thanks for coming back. Earlier this week, I wrote about my trip to Red Rocks Amphitheater to see Drive-by Truckers and Tedeschi Trucks Band. Today we look at…

Concert Two:

After a concert of bands we’d never heard of, we went the complete opposite for concert number two: Foreigner, Def Leppard, and Journey. From “There Will Be Rock” to “There Will Be Stool Softeners.”

Once again, we missed the first band. Not due to any parking lot fiasco, because the concert was at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and there’s no parking there. And I don’t just mean at the baseball stadium, I mean in the whole city. Probably the better part of East Bay and South Bay, too. Parking is frowned upon in the Bay Area, because if cars could park then they couldn’t all be crossing the fucking Bay Bridge at the exact same time I’m crossing it every fucking time.

Oh, and probably some reason relating to the environment, as well.

Our delayed entry into this concert was twofold. First, as with Red Rocks, we once again encountered the dreaded long line. I kinda understand the long line at Red Rocks, which only has two entrances, but AT&T Park should have at least five or six. And I would think they have an infrastructure accustomed to processing tens of thousands of fans in a short period of time. Sure, it’s been four years since the Giants won the World Series, and their fans are notoriously fickle, such that the stands were only thirty-percent full most nights this season, but still, institutional memory’s got to have a shelf-life beyond three years, right?

Is this just what concerts are in the NSA States of America? If you want to see a band live, you must be suspect enough to have to go through a full body cavity search. And sticking your fingers up the assholes of fifty thousand screaming fans takes time. Got to be thorough.

But hey, Mr. Concert Security, would it kill you to change gloves once every ten customers or so? And one finger would’ve been plenty to find my IED. Be honest, the second finger is just for you, isn’t it.

But lines weren’t the main reason we missed the first band, and could only listen to hits such as “Cold As Ice” and “Hot Blooded” and “Double Vision.” And “Head Games”… And “I Want to Know What Love Is”… And, holy shit, Foreigner sings “Urgent,” too? Wow, this has been a great security line soundtrack. I had no idea Foreigner was so prolific. Why the fuck are they the opening band?

Sorry, where was I? Oh yeah, the main reason we were late to the concert. Because it started at six o’fucking clock on a Friday.

Who the hell starts a concert at 6:00? I know that the average age of their fans are more in line with happy hour than closing time. And sure, the new lead singer of Journey might have a curfew, but this is the Bay Area. Even if you count mass transit, I’m pretty sure it is impossible to get anywhere in the Bay Area by 6:00 on Friday. Like, even the bar around the corner from your work is occasionally a bridge too far. And quite literally a bridge too far, because you will probably have to pay a toll to go a block and a half.

So yeah, we knew we were going to be late, anyway. We already knew we’d be late when the Muni we were on, chock-full of the musk of aging rock fans, delivered us in front of the stadium at 6:15. Maybe, we hoped, there would be an opening band BEFORE Foreigner, and that’s why the concert starts so early. But nope, that’s definitely Foreigner rocking out on the other side of the brick facade. Or a damned good cover band.

Hey, I just thought of a great idea. Have a cover band open for the real band. Then you get to hear the songs you like twice, and hopefully (HOPEFULLY!) it’s better the second time around. Maybe the cover band could open with the real band’s finale, then work backward until you hear the final song of the cover band’s set twice in a row. Trademark this shit. Wait, I can’t trademark an idea? Can I patent it? I’m going to be a motherfucking millionaire with this shit.

I mean sure, I could be a millionaire by taking pretty much any cut of a multi-platinum tour. I don’t really need to be the master of the “Two-You/U2 Snake Draft Concert” to become rich. If Bono just wants to send me one percent of his next tour, cover band or no, I’d be cool with that.

We finally made it into AT&T Park during Foreigner’s last song. Which, coincidentally, is probably the last song I would’ve wanted to see live. I guess hearing it live through the throng of people in the walkways is good enough, because the people who built AT&T Park built it to look good on TV, not necessarily with the idea of tens of thousands of people attending. Hence the, I think, ten urinals in the entire park. Oh, maybe there are more, but you wouldn’t know it when you have to pee at a concert or sporting event and you miss half of said concert or sporting event.

But we eventually found our seats in time for Def Leppard to come out. I’ve always been kinda meh on Def Leppard. The old joke used to be “What has seven arms and sucks? Answer: Def Leppard.” But you know what? Now that I’ve seen them in concert, I realize how wrong I was. I take back every time I ever told that “seven arms and sucks” joke.

Because, it turns out that there are five members in Def Leppard, not four. So that means they have nine arms and suck. I apologize to the Academy and will never again say “Seven arms and sucks,” even if alliteration makes it way funnier.

Anyway, the band was fine. Nothing to write home about. Or a blog.

The drummer did look like he was going to keel over and die at any given moment. Of course, that could just be because he’s missing an arm and thus always looks like he’s lilting at an angle usually reserved for last call. But I don’t think it’s just that. He also wears industrial strength earmuffs, like he’s working on the tarmac at O’Hare or next to a steel furnace. And while proper ear protection is probably a good idea for someone who works around rock concert amplification on a nightly basis, it doesn’t really help the motif. You’re supposed to be a rockstar. This one goes to eleven, motherfucker. If you don’t want to hear your own shitty music, why the fuck would I want to?

They were cohesive, too. I think all five of them have been together since the beginning. The only lineup change they’ve had in forty years is the removal of one arm. That’s rare in a rock band, and it ought to be acknowledged.

So there, I’ve acknowledged it.

Also, I guess it was kinda cool to see “Unter, glieben, glauben, globen” said live. Something I never knew was on my bucket list.

Now onto the greatest thing about the Def Leppard show, which had nothing to do with the musicians on stage. It was the kid next to me. Maybe he was pushing thirteen or fourteen, but if I had to wager an over-under on his age, I’d say the kid couldn’t be much beyond twelve. But dude screamed at the top of his lungs and knew every fucking lyric. Pulled out his phone at the proper spot, ie “Love Bites.”

Little kids at old-fogey concerts aren’t new, of course. I once went to an Air Supply concert with eight-year olds who crooned “Making Love Out of Nothing at All” with absolutely no clue of the entendres. I don’t know if one can have a single entendre, but that song isn’t opaque enough to call it a double entendre. And I’ve forced my kid to listen to a certain temporary Sirus/XM state so much that when I was whistling a Christmas song a few weeks ago, she asked, “Daddy, is that you whistling or is it Billy Joel?”

The difference with Def Leppard kid was that his father seemed about as uninterested as one can be. He looked like I will look in a few years when my daughter forces me to the 2022 equivalent of Taylor Swift or the Jonas Brothers or Justin Bieber. Like, “Oh Jesus, can this torture go on any more?”

But this raises the question of where the hell this pre-teen came up with his love for a mid-eighties pseudo-rock/proto-hair-band? Is this going to happen to me? Is my daughter going to discover bands from my youth that I  didn’t like then and still don’t like know?

“Daddy, Daddy, Pantera is coming to town.”

“Okay, just make sure you wait until the second verse of “Cemetery Gates” before you take out the cigarette lighter app on your phone.”

Of course, it didn’t take long to figure out what chaperone dude was getting out of the show. Because when Journey hit the stage, hoo boy, those two had their roles reversed. Twelve-year old couldn’t give less of a shit. Cell phones are made for Candy Crush, not illuminating the air for a ballad. Which again raises the question of how the kid loves Def Leppard and the adult loves Journey, but never the twain shall meet. Maybe they weren’t father and son. Maybe Def Leppard Boy’s parents were all too happy to pawn him off on Uncle Journey for the evening. But this again raises the question of HOW THE HELL DOES THIS KID LOVE DEF LEPPARD?!?

I know, I know. Get over it, Wombat. Move on to…

Journey. How was that quintessential Bay Area rock band fronted by a karaoke singer half their age?

Hoo boy.

Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t bank on that whole “cover band” idea. That, after all, is what Journey has become. But it’s the worst kind of cover band, because it’s a cover band with all of the original artists sans one.

And look, it’s not fair. A band is a band, and that includes all of its members. It’s totally not fair when a band comes to town, having replaced their drummer and their bassist, and nobody bats an eye. Heck, I think everybody in Lynyrd Skynyrd died, and their still touring to this day.

I mean, if Steve Perry grabbed four musicians off the street and went on stage calling himself “Journey,” I wouldn’t bat an eye. But the reverse is not the same.

Because there’s something about the lead singer, where you can’t really replace them. I know the Eagles are now touring with Vince Gill since their lead singer died, and I gotta tell you, I’m skeptical of that one, too.

The only band that replaced the lead singer successfully was Van Halen. But the key with Van Halen was that Sammy Haggar wasn’t trying to be David Lee Roth. He had a different voice, and the band had a different sound with him as their lead singer.

And there’s one more thing about Journey that doesn’t affect latter day Glenn Freys or David Lee Roths or Sammy Haggars, and that is that Steve Perry has one of the most iconic voices of all time. The only other person in history with as unreplicable voice as his is Frankie Valli. I can’t wait for “San Francisco Boys” to come out in another twenty years to give Journey the Four Seasons treatment.

And here, I want to be fair to Journey’s new singer. He’s got a damn good voice. He’s very, very close to Steve Perry. He’s almost too close, and we’ve got the auditory equivalence of that uncanny valley shit that made Tom Hanks so creepy in “Polar Express.”

And I think this is where the biggest problems come in. Unlike Haggar, the new Journey singer is trying to be Steve Perry. The phrasings, the stylings, the timing. I wasn’t kidding when I called it a karaoke band. Dude is singing it as if it’s on a teleprompter in front of him. And I’m not knocking him. He does a spot on karaoke version of Steve Perry. Which is saying something because, trust me, there’s a lot of really, really terrible Steve Perry karaoke singers out there. Myself included. Holy crap, that shit’s hard to sing. How the fuck does he do it? And Phil Collins is tough as shit, too. He’s just in between my normal and flasetto range.

And it’s totally understandable why they got this guy who can (almost) nail Steve Perry. Nobody’s going to go to a Journey concert if they can’t close their eyes and pretend. If Journey went the Eagles route and picked up, I don’t know, Garth Brooks or Toby Keith to sing lead, and said star-in-his-own-right tried to re-imagine “Don’t Stop Believin’,” they’d be lucky to sell out a county fair. So Journey pretty much had to do a YouTube search for the world’s best Steve Perry impersonator.

But at the same time, the new dude didn’t earn the lifestyle. He’s running around on stage, giving high fives to all the fans in the front row, despite the fact that those fans don’t have a clue who he is and are only here because he sounds like something else. His stage presence was just a little bit off. Part of it was his youthful energy compared to the rest of the aging rockers in the band. But part of it is a little of the “Freaky Friday” syndrome, where he’s a guy that went from the smalltime to the bigtime in a heartbeat. I know, I know, his Wikipedia entry says he was a big thing in the Philippines and I am thereby racist to say he’s lucky as balls to be in his current situation. But regardless, he hasn’t gone the normal rockstar route. He went straight to arena rock band. He was never a “singer in a smoky room, smell of wine and cheap perfume.” He just sort of sounds like the guy who has.

And that’s where the real problem comes. The dude is singing songs he doesn’t own. Somebody else wrote those lyrics. Somebody else put his emotion into them. And it’s not that I’m opposed to remakes. The Beatles did “Twist and Shout” better than the Isley Brothers and, as I stated last week, Bruce Springsteen has the only listenable version of “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.” But in most of those instances, the new singer has put their own spin on it. They might phrase something different. Hold out this word a little longer, hit this note a little louder, because that’s what they feel when they sing it, as opposed to the original recording. If you aren’t doing that, then you’re doing a cover, not a remake. And cover bands don’t play baseball stadiums.

It was most obvious in the song “Lights.” And maybe it’s particularly noticeable when it’s being sung in the city that the song is about. But look, I’m not a San Franciscan, and that city annoys me more often than it amazes me. But dude, how the fuck dare you have the balls to stand on the stage at AT&T Park and sing, “I wanna be there in my city”? Do you even know which team plays there? And of course, he stresses the word “my,” because he has to, because Steve Perry did.

What made it even more awkward was that they referenced Steve Perry before they sang one of that song. They referenced the fact that he lives in the area, and that he regularly comes to this very park to watch his favorite baseball team play. Said team used his song, and gave him a cush seat, for a good portion of their three World Series runs.

And when they referenced Steve Perry, they said “Maybe he’s here tonight,” at which point we all hoped he’d come out on stage. But they followed that up, hand like a visor on their foreheads, looking out at the audience with a “Steve, are you out there?” We all looked around as if maybe the person who’s the reason we’re all here might be sitting next to us. Maybe he’s the Journey fan next to me that brought his neighbor’s Def Leppard-fan son with him. But then Neal Schon just continues with, “We hope so. If you’re here, we love you, Steve.”

Wait, you don’t even know if Steve Perry is here? I know there’s some bad blood, but did you invite him? Leave him a ticket at willcall in case he shows up at the last minute? Does he even know you’re in town? Maybe he’s not on the Foreigner mailing list and he didn’t know.

And if you did leave him a ticket, where was the seat? Because when you asked if he was here, you looked way up in the nosebleeds. You couldn’t give him a better seat than the Giants do during the playoffs? How does Steve not merit a backstage pass? Maybe you shouldn’t have left the new lead singer in charge of checking on Steve Perry’s availability.

And all of these various drawbacks and oddities were rather obvious on the stage. It was as if there were two entities on the stage, the band and the lead singer. Both tolerated the other as a meal ticket, but neither really cared about being a cohesive unit. The band members introduced all of the songs, complete with the stories of how and when they were written. Then they’d walk to the back of the stage, and the lead singer would run up to the front and belt to his karaoke heart’s content, all the while prancing around the stage and high fiving the sloppy-second hands raised up to him at the precise moment he saw Steve Perry do the same thing on the 1982 tour video.

The last time I saw a singer and band this much at odds with each other, this distant and uninterested in each other, was 10,000 Maniacs. I saw them in Monterey on Memorial Day weekend, 1993. They split up in August of that year.

But hey, 10,000 Manics did a great cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Because the Night.”

And I don’t see Journey going their “Separate Ways.” They all have that look. The one that says they know precisely which cash cow they are milking, and they will be doing that until the arenas stop filling. Which, based on the sales figures for Steve Perry’s recent solo album, is pretty much never.