Satire: Philip Marlowe’s 1939 Christmas Card Note

LA Black Slide 3Bob’s note: written for the season of good natures and with love and respect for Raymond Chandler’s work. The main case referenced below is the plot thread of Farewell, My Lovely, my favorite of the Marlowe books and set in 1939. 

Christmas Eve, and a blade-straight wind is scraping dirt off the San Gabriel Mountains. Out my window the drunks are slurring carols, and eggnog-soaked housewives are screaming their holiday wishes. So much for throwing open my sash.

I shouldn’t complain. Tonight marks the first holiday in memory no one has sapped me roadside, bedside, poolside, ringside or portside. Take how 1939 came: the hard way. My first waking moment of it was from the bottom of a Malibu ravine, courtesy of whoever dumped me there. Midnight on December 31 some people got a kiss. I took a sap to the head. Happy New Year, Marlowe.

I write you from inside a cloud of cigarette smoke. Outside the cloud is my room at the Bristol. It is the kind of place you might want to call home, but only after waking up in a few ravines. On my door hangs a sunburned wreath as gnarled as the traffic on Sunset. Around my window is a strand of colored lights supposed to make the season merry. Half the bulbs have already called it quits. I don’t blame them. In Hollywood neon outmuscles electric and keeps my apartment tinged the local brand of scarlet. I also tied a bow atop my house bottle of Four Roses. I am in a cloud of that too.

The bourbon is in the hopes Continue reading “Satire: Philip Marlowe’s 1939 Christmas Card Note”

An Open Letter to Cap’n Crunch Regarding the Current State of Crunchberry Handling

Dearest Captain Crunch,


There you are, the famed naval commander, successful merchant and beloved naturalist, the brave explorer, pictured on cereal box after cereal box on our shelves, your eyes bulging with glee, silver fox mustache sparkling, hand extended out in pride toward a label declaring “Oops! All Berries!” To repeat, here is yet another serious crunchberry overfill situation, and again all you and your trading company can say about your latest disaster is “Oops.”

Some fifty years ago, you sailed the famed S.S. Guppy through pirate-infested channels and great heaving oceans, then onto the ill-drawn corners of the globe where there be dragons. You pressed your crew onward, always onward, until the day Continue reading “An Open Letter to Cap’n Crunch Regarding the Current State of Crunchberry Handling”

Behind: “Uprisings at Cap d’Antibes”

There’s nothing like a good, old-school revolution to get a story going. Great or small, a lightning coup or decades in the making, needed change or epic tragedy. Revolution, for better or worse, is essentially human.

The idea of a revolution wriggled into my brain some time back. In my fiction usually a form of natural order wins out, often crushing a too-bold POV. Later I began wondering about the true insurgent. Sometimes the natural order wins out only because good hearts fight for it.

One idea grabbed me. Not just any revolution but the Revolution. Socialism turned to its extreme. Far too big a canvas for short fiction, unless a very personal uprising set against a revolutionary backdrop. And so, at a fictional tennis academy in the glimmering Cote d’Azur, a revolution begins.

I’m proud to announce my unabashed romp “Uprisings at Cap d’Antibes” is included with other terrific writing in Lowestoft Chronicle #17. It’s my second contribution to Lowestoft, after last year’s “La Upsell.” If you’re not reading Lowestoft, you should, but only if if you love to laugh through far-flung (mis)adventures. Consistently a wonderful read.

Back to the revolution. “Uprisings” goes back to 2011 brainstorming, insurgents overthrowing a neighborhood association. Say it was a gated community, and the association has become bloated and under the thumb of a busybody who frets over nits like shrub height. I even wrote a few thousand words of something called “May Day.” The main character came, a proto-Dasha freaked out over the revolution’s growing interest in her tennis star daughter when the new boss proved worse than the old boss. The story itself never took off,  a too-easy premise and riddled with darlings and design flaws. Point is, the kernel stuck, filed under Good Try.

Last year the idea came back in fits and starts. The opening scene to “May Day” was good, so much so that it bothered me not knowing how things played out for Dasha. The “A Ha!” finally came with seeing the revolution didn’t have to occur in a neighborhood. It could happen somewhere out of Dasha’s element or somewhere she wanted anything but instability. A place. A tennis academy. In France. The Riviera. Feliks the uber-wealthy ex-pro wouldn’t pick the gloomy north to set up shop. Make it Antibes, as swank as it gets, minutes from Cannes.

So. A revolution. Sergei the son and true believer ousts dad Feliks the communist icon turned capitalist mogul. But the story is Dasha’s revolution. Unlike the Karperovs, gentle mom Dasha wants a closer relationship with daughter Hailey (parallelism alert!). She’s a happy second fiddle to her banker hubbie (up parallelism alert level to Orange!) With some massaging, the story fell into line: Dasha must rise up (Parallelism alert code red!). Against Sergei, who wants to claim Hailey as his poster child. Against her jackass husband, who wants tennis stardom for Hailey at any price. Against her meek self, who thought she wanted to breeze through life as a socialite and in the reflected glory of a phenom daughter.

I hope readers take to Dasha. She was fun to write, somebody you’d welcome at a dinner party table. Loving, well-intentioned, wry, but quick to shelther inside her privileged lifestyle. Writing Feliks was a hoot. A man of faded but not lost capability, from whom no combination of words seemed over-the-top. And Hailey is way, way up there among characters I’m blessed to have found me. Machine-focused, except for when she glances needfully at mom in the bleachers. From the mouth of this predatory child could come one-liners and an insensitivity to the contradictions and cruelties around her. She is the monster Tom and Dasha have made. Dasha and Hailey’s mother-daughter moment–after all that it took them to get there–sticks with me as the story’s best moment, maybe poignant in its way. The scene surprised me writing it.

Not to instigate, but I hope folks check out Dasha and her uprising.

Humor: Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Attempts to Destroy Earth

For grins to mark the return of new Dr. Who episodes, here dusted off is my humor piece ‘An Open Letter to the Daleks re: Repeated Efforts to Destroy Earth’

Dear Supreme Whoever Dalek Is In Charge, We Don’t Know Any More:

Why us? Seriously?

Earth science estimates 300 sextillion (1021) galaxies in the known universe, each galaxy containing a stunning multitude of stars, our own Milky Way some two hundred billion (2×1011), many upon many containing habitable planets. By the time the light wave  beaming this letter reaches your planet or wherever you’re out exterminating, we will have greatly increased those counts–galaxies, stars, habitable planets–as our astronomical capabilities improve.  But already we know this: there are so many stars that humanity has invented denominations like which serve no purpose other than counting stars. Seriously, a guy in an astronomy lab called a buddy at the math department and said, “Hey, it’s me. We found more stars. A lot more.” And the buddy said, “How many more?” And the astronomer said, “That’s why I’m calling. We’re out of numbers.”

Of course, those estimates are just in our universe. Dalek technology, as we understand it, adds near-infinite realities in the space-time continuum. Even filtering out dying or uninhabitable universes, the sheer exponential plentitude of Dalek targets make the odds of finding Earth, let alone attacking us once, let alone renewing the attack every few years, infinitesimal. Miniscule. Rather near zero.

And yet you keep returning.

We understand our cultures may be very different. To the Dalek mind, it may be perfectly acceptable to devastate other planets or exterminate indigenous species. We consider it bad form. This is not to say it does not occur here–say wars, deforestation, pollution, that sort of thing–but the behavior is still, on balance, considered uncool.

Is it us? Are we a threat to you? It seems unlikely. Right now our best minds in space flight are focused on tourism, questions such as the artificial gravity and cabin pressure required to keep the tycoon’s champagne bubbling. Our best defense against an inbound asteroid is our NASA positing, “we might could nudge that puppy a few degrees, I don’t know.” Yes, we sent a lander to Mars, our probes have left the solar system, and our telescopes are mapping the depths of space. Know what we’ve found? Ever more perfectly habitable star systems your empire can just have, no invasion or fleet maintenance, no Doctor Who run-ins, no problem.

Daleks, we are no interstellar threat. Do not mistake Star Trek or similar programs on our airwaves for newsreel footage. It’s just quality entertainment. Certainly someday our popular music and talk radio beaming off the planet will be a universe-wide nuisance. For that, we apologize. But we should also point out that, one, it is a mere nuisance easily jammed and, two, had you minded your own affairs and not attacked our planet, our broadcasting waves would still be eons upon eons from reaching your distant empire.

So you feel compelled to exterminate. Have you sought counseling? Our anger management therapies are quite advanced, perhaps superior to your own. We would be delighted to make our therapists available to you pro bono or at very reasonable rates per hour, a bargain for both races given the alternative of another invasion attempt.

If you are not yet ready for co-existence or therapy, then consider the benefits of inaction. As already mentioned, look how we treat our planet. You don’t want it. Trust us. We are the dominant species and are doing our damndest to exterminate ourselves. You could simply stop attacking, wait us out, and take over after Earth has cleansed itself of our leftover contaminants. Why not let us handle things from here? As a token of good faith, we would be willing to send you environmental progress reports. Another important benefit of inaction, of which no Dalek needs reminding, should you stop attacking us, the Doctor will stop destroying you by the shipload. This will spare valuable Daleks to fight the Cybermen or impure Daleks or whoever else you’re out to exterminate at the moment.

Daleks, it comes down to this: you have far more to gain by not attacking Earth than ever you could achieve by a successful attack. If you refuse to accept the logic of a supposedly-lesser species, consider the cold logic of repeated failure. For so many attempts, all your treasure and shock troops sent here have ended up as so much scrap metal and space junk. And yet, it is not hard for us to picture you yet again working yourself into a tizzy over another invasion, knowing even as you bleat ‘Exterminate!’ that the Doctor will–inevitably and decisively–intervene.

There’s another possible explanation why you keep returning,  one you might not yet be ready to hear. You seek not to exterminate us, but to impress us. Why else the continued but doomed attacks? You crave our attention, perhaps even our approval, and being emotionally stunted you act out: fire death rays, tear up London, ruin our Christmases. Daleks, there is a pattern in psychology known as ‘leaky behavior,’ where no matter the front someone puts up, their true and honest feelings leak out in actions large and small. And here you are in your latest incarnation, decked out like our iPods in their fashion colors, and svelte too, trimmed down and sleek by Dalek standards. Or is there another species out in the vastness of space and time that you know to perk up at Daleks clad in  designs ripped from an Apple store? One wonders, Daleks, if you want to exterminate us or make us a playlist.

Daleks, please, stop trying to wipe us from reality and just talk to us. There’s a saying from a little blue planet to which somehow you always find your way back–you only hurt the one you love.